How To: Finding a Data Center that Meets Your Storage Needs
As an increasing number of companies go digital, information becomes an increasingly valuable commodity for making key decisions. As a result, the data center industry is growing rapidly. Data centers help businesses maintain an online presence, boost efficiency in daily operations, run applications, and process data. Depending on a company’s data needs, there are many options to choose from, including hyperscale, wholesale, co-location, retail, or managed services.
With so much investment in the collection and analysis of data, proper storage, security, and handling of data are essential. Security is always a top concern—according to a recent National CyberSecurity Alliance survey, for example, data breaches can be devastating to small and mid-sized businesses, resulting in severe financial loss, bankruptcy, or business failure.
With this in mind, businesses need to know how much security they need. Data centers provide four levels of security, ranging from Tier 1 (no guaranteed built-in redundancies to ensure optimal uptime and an average 28.8 hours of downtime per year) up to Tier 4 (redundant infrastructure, 96-hour power outage protection, 99% uptime per year, and 26.3 minutes of downtime per year).
Since the capabilities of data centers vary dramatically, here are five key considerations when selecting a data center facility.
Depending on the type of wiring, proximity to the data center can be important. “The distance between your company and your data center will impact Internet speed,” says Tom Collins, director of enterprise sales and marketing for Atlantech Online. “Copper cable loses strength around 330 ft.—with fiber, the reach is almost 25 miles before you’d notice even a slightly slower connection.” In areas prone to natural disasters, finding a data center on a separate power grid is a good idea. “You may also need access to multiple data centers across different strategic locations for large IT deployments, business continuity/disaster recovery, or to get closer to employees, customers, and partners,” adds Yogesh Malik, senior solutions architect for Equinix.
2. Reliable performance.
In a recent Uptime Institute survey, nearly one-third of respondents indicated data center outages had resulted in “substantial financial and reputational” damage. Therefore, it is paramount to have a backup source of power—usually a centralized uninterruptible power system (UPS). Data can also be protected by redundant systems that take over in case of a disruption or crisis. “It is also a great idea to utilize two separate ISPs (Internet Service Providers),” explains Jim Pixley, information innovation specialist with TelNet Worldwide. “This reduce congestion and also creates another level of assurance that the network will always be up and running.”
Because data centers protect a company’s enterprise data and applications, a breach can be disastrous. “The average cost of a cyber-attack on data centers rounds out to $4 million,” says Collins. Data centers should be utilizing the latest computer security technologies, as well as strong physical security. Advanced physical security measures include layered security zones, biometric access, camera and surveillance systems, and online access controls. “Also, just as the maintenance of data center infrastructure requires testing, so too do physical security measures,” says Avatara, a provider of cloud computing and IT support. “Regular testing of physical security ensures that gaps in the system are caught before being exploited.”
4. Flexibility and scalability.
Business conditions change and data centers must be able to meet variable data demands, especially during times of expansion. “Your IT infrastructure needs to grow over time as your business expands,” says Malik. “Consider how the data center can meet your current needs for space and power, as well as how quickly it can scale up to meet your future needs within the same location, as well as other locations.” Variables include network reliability, speed at peak usage, bandwidth, and power and cooling. Also be sure the data center has the the financial strength and access to capital to continue expanding in the geographies where your operations are located.
5. 24/7 Support and monitoring.
Your own IT department does not likely have the skills, technology, or manpower to effectively manage its own data. Data center staff provide assistance with the installation, implementation, or migration of your equipment and IT services, as well as monitor and maintain it. Ask what types of monitoring tools and remote support the center provides, including alerts. Are archiving/back-up services offered? “Also, find out how detailed the service level agreement is,” advises Lauren Bronston, an SEO specialist for TelNet Worldwide. “Is there a copy for review? What’s the ticket system like? How is it handled from initiation through escalation and resolution? Is it 24/7/365?”
American businesses are developing a voracious appetite for data—especially as they rely more on Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things technologies for operational improvements. In addition, “industries of all types are driving increased demand for data centers as part of their efforts to gather consumer insights,” says Alex Carroll, managing member for Lifeline Data Centers.
This demand is creating a shortage of skilled personnel to operate data centers. As a result, there is a push toward remote management of data centers and unstaffed data centers—for example, with automation, a single system administrator can manage tens of thousands of servers. “This trend will also feature new approaches to design, and even robotics,” observes Rich Miller, founder of Data Center Frontier. “We’ve seen the early outline of this in TMGcore’s creation of robotics technology that can ‘hot swap’ servers, removing a failed server from the immersion bath and replacing it with a fresh server.”
Ultimately, technology moves fast and you want your data center to keep up with the latest technologies and business-model concepts.
“What works fine today will most likely be outdated in the near future,” says Bronston. “Be sure to consider factors like energy consumption, increased capacity, and operation costs, which are undoubtedly going to change. Make certain updates are well-planned in advance. By understanding the energy consumption of a data center, you’ll know how much capacity the data center can handle for your bandwidth needs, both now and in the future.”
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.