In the past, organizations focused on how quickly they could recover from unexpected IT outages. Creating a disaster recovery plan became a must-have strategy for minimizing downtime and its detrimental effects on the business. Today, however, successful businesses are concentrating their energies on business continuity — ensuring that critical systems and information remain connected and available across all company locations at all times.

Because data centers handle mission critical operations, they need to remain available on a continuous basis. Although it’s impossible to completely eliminate outages, you can take steps to mitigate the consequences of downtime and ensure business continuity.

Here are proven ways to minimize the losses that can result from an unexpected outage:

Develop a comprehensive plan. Your team must adequately address the impact to your data center facility, equipment and business operations. To resolve outages in a timely manner, emergency procedures are necessary to minimize detrimental consequences. These procedures should list the steps to be taken during any given type of emergency.

Maintain all systems regularly. Many experts believe regular maintenance of your data center systems is the most important strategy for ensuring high availability. This includes regularly testing primary and backup power systems under a full electrical load, conducting frequent inspections, following manufacturer recommendations and benchmarking performance over time. If you test your infrastructure quarterly or even annually, you’ll be much better prepared to minimize the effects of an unplanned disaster.

Update maintenance procedures. Comprehensive maintenance documentation is essential to all data center operations. Data centers are dynamic environments with new systems and infrastructure components being added all the time. When these additions take place, you need to update your documentation accordingly.

Train on-site staff. Access to trained personnel is a core requirement if you want to avoid outages due to human error. Your staff should be well versed in their day-to-day responsibilities, but also trained to respond quickly in worst-case scenarios. This is especially critical if you contract with a third-party for data center maintenance. For example, if you rely on your equipment manufacturers to provide the necessary expertise in a power emergency, you may experience a much longer recovery time. You want trained, knowledgeable personnel available before, during and after a disaster. Prepared people can be your most important data center asset.

Automate routine tasks. Performing tasks, such as configuring and managing systems, should be automated whenever possible. Eliminating manual operations reduces outages caused by human error.

Locate systems in secure locations. To prevent unauthorized access, you should locate your primary and backup power systems in secure areas. Your facility must also include sophisticated access control systems to ensure that only authorized personnel gain entry. Using a secure, hardened data center environment to store your servers will help keep core operational programs up and running.

Create a secondary data center. Ideally, you should have a secondary data center so that if something happens in one location, your IT operations can failover to the alternate data center.

Implement adequate redundancies. In addition to housing important resources in multiple locations, business continuity requires high levels of redundancy within each location. You want backup sources for power, connectivity and cooling in place, as well as the technical support necessary to manage it.

Ensure clean power. Sophisticated IT equipment requires consistently clean power. However, power coming from commercial sources often needs to be conditioned and filtered. Because power quality can vary greatly, data center managers must invest in equipment that minimizes power anomalies such as voltage and frequency fluctuations, sags, spikes, surges, brownouts, and blackouts.

Secure power from different power grids. If you have commercial power routed to your data center from different paths, you can improve the odds of recovering from a power outage. However, engineering and constructing this type of power infrastructure can be cost-prohibitive for most companies.

Strike the right balance between efficiency and availability. Because data centers consume huge amounts of electricity, the industry has been under constant pressure to adopt greener solutions. But higher efficiency often comes at the expense of availability and reliability. In mission-critical data centers, managers need to find the ideal operating environment – one that delivers the highest levels of efficiency with the lowest risk of downtime.

Outsource your data center services. Data center colocation can eliminate many of the costs of sustaining an infrastructure at optimal levels. With the right provider, organizations benefit from high levels of physical security, accredited processes, the latest data center technologies, hard-to-find expertise and a proven disaster recovery and business continuity solution that can help defray the costs of implementing these measures in an on-premises data center.