Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, December 3, 2022

Winterizing Your Data Center Before the Next Big Snowstorm 

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The 2017-2018 winter season was hit with brutal storms: in March 2018 alone, four powerful nor'easters hammered the U.S. and eastern Canada. 2019 has so far followed a similar pattern with mid-April (the approximate end of the snowstorm season) still nearly two months away. Preparing for winter storms is a paramount issue for data center operators and IT leaders, who must be proactive and prepare for the worst to ensure optimal performance.

As most data center operators know, data centers face static and backup power issues when winter storms hit. Since a majority of data centers are climate-controlled and generator-backed, these issues resolve themselves. But that doesn’t mean data center operators and support vendors are completely off the hook for winter-weather related concerns though.

Here are a few things that IT staff should consider in the face of brutal winter weather.

The role of IT leaders in a winter storm

Regardless of the weather condition, disaster recovery provisions should always be in place and ready to activate, and IT leaders should be a key stakeholder in their initial and ongoing development. There are key best practices when preparing your data center for a winter storm: ensure generators are fully provisioned with oil and fuel, regularly test your generators, and clear rooves of ice and other winter debris.

The most important consideration of all may be to maintain a mirror copy of production systems in a second data center. Every business unit should have continuity and contingency plans, and IT departments are no different. In fact, they will likely play roles in several unit plans, and they are vital to keeping operations running as smoothly as possible.

Another critical responsibility of IT leaders during winter weather conditions is to always keep customers informed throughout the duration of a storm. Customers should be aware of the preparations being made for the company before a storm arrives and receive frequent updates. They should also be alerted to all of the potential data risks and downtime possibilities beforehand, so they may plan accordingly. Communication should be continuous across all stages, with detailed notes or quick, digestible notifications to customers.

It’s times like these that make your company stand out and prove the high-level of trust and service you’re providing to customers.

Travel is unpredictable, so plan ahead

The biggest mistake that support staff and engineers make is assuming that travel during a storm is possible. Aside from weather conditions, employees themselves may have conflicts preventing them from getting to a company’s data center site, such as damage to their home, children home from school or other personal concerns – all of which can cause extended downtime.  The most effective way to limit this is to have “remote hands” or “remote access” capabilities in place.

Remote hands services tackle basic tasks for downed equipment like rebooting servers, disconnecting and reconnecting cables, and monitoring and reporting on indicators. When access to a data center is impossible, whether it’s travel-related or because it’s located across the country, these systems come in-hand.

Riding out the storm and looking ahead

The passing of a storm doesn’t mean that the work is done for external IT staff. They will be responsible for assessing the aftermath and confirming any damage by conducting extensive, comprehensive tests and cross-checks across all data center assets.

Looking ahead, organizations should consider infrastructure changes to create better efficiencies in the data center in the event of a storm. One instance is by including the cloud in your BCP/DR plans, which can also be a very cost-effective way to implement mirror systems or cold standby systems. The ability to maintain backup capacity without paying for the capital infrastructure for a complete mirror system not only protects your precious data from exposure to weather elements, as they are stored online, but also is a big cost saver.

It’s vital to always think of ways to ensure that critical data server infrastructure is up and running, maximizing uptime. Weather systems are unpredictable and can make data center preparedness a challenge, but by having disaster recovery provisions in place will help your organization to ride out the storm.

Chris Adams is president and CEO of Park Place Technologies.

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