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Choose wisely: What to look for in a data centre

Choose wisely: What to look for in a data centre 

But traditional security is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to protecting information. There are many factors to consider: Where should the data centre be located? What are its certifications? Is it resilient and available? Can data be recovered quickly in the event of a disaster, such as a flood or a fire? And, for businesses concerned with the environment: what about energy conservation features and policies?

AJ Byers, president, Rogers Data Centres, has a few suggestions. He sat down to talk to IT in Canada about the things businesses should keep in mind when finding a home for their data.

Above all, Byers advises businesses to keep an eye out for providers that are tested and true in the industry.

“One of the key things you should always look for is some measure of proven reliability,” said Byers. “When you’re looking for a data centre service provider, you should ask: Have they been in the industry for a while? Do they have a high degree of uptime?”

The best way to determine if a provider is reputable is to check their certifications. Are they PCI and SOC compliant? Better yet, are they certified by the Uptime Institute?

“The data centre industry was a bit of a buyer-beware industry,” said Byers. “As time has gone on, there’s now an onus on data centre providers to get certified. We believe they [businesses] should look for the Uptime Institute’s certification process. It’s the standard certification that everyone looks for around the globe.”

While it’s important to keep a number of factors in mind, logic dictates that businesses with a good track record are likely to keep delivering quality performance. As such, reputation is the best place to start when building one’s list of data centre criteria.

There is more to security than the digital shield of firewalls and data encryption. While those things are important,businesses should also consider the physical structures that house the servers.

“The centre should have two layers of walls, including concrete bricks,” said Byers. “And what you’re looking for is dual-factor authentication, like a passcode with some form of biometric security.

“There should be multiple security zones in the facility where the customer has full access, but contractors and tech people only have access to certain zones,” he added. “Also, look at how the physical security elements are put in place, such as access to video surveillance, so you always know exactly what’s happening around your data.”

Location, location, location

Businesses should be selective about the location of their data centres, but Byers noted that desired location will differ according to each business’s individual needs. Ultimately, the placement of primary and backup data centres is a tactical undertaking that requires some serious forethought.

Some locations, such as close to train stations or fuel supplies, are obviously unsuitable for housing either a primary or backup data centre. The same goes for regions that are prone to flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters.

“Geographic location depends on a multitude of factors, and businesses need to take many of them into consideration,” said Byers. “The disaster recovery site should be 100 km away from the primary site, but the primary site should be close enough that you can get to it if you need to.”

No matter how many safeguards you put in place, you cannot alter weather patterns, and natural disasters will take place . They may not be as extreme as a hurricane, but it’s still important to plan for such contingencies well in advance.

Byers says it’s imperative that businesses have a backup site that is identical to the primary site, so that the environment will come online again within a minute or two should something happen to the primary site. The key is to look for a fully replicated environment.

“Are you designing for a flood or a nuclear bomb? What you need depends on what you’re trying to prevent,” said Byers. “There are 50 to 100 things to consider when reviewing your disaster recovery plan and how to design against that. For example, are you designing for a flood or a nuclear bomb?”

The best way to ensure your data stays safe is to choose a provider that has experience in building disaster recovery plans.

Energy conservation
At a time when climatologists are wringing their hands over global warming, energy conservation is just one more thing businesses might wish to take into account when they choose a data centre provider.

Data centres are increasingly being seen as black holes of energy consumption, and with the rapid growth of data, there will be a great need for more of them in the future. Some providers are looking to that future and harnessing new technology to reduce energy waste in their data centres.

“Are they implementing energy design – heating and ventilation design that adheres to lower energy usage?” said Byers. “Look for free-air cooling, where the provider leverages the temperature of outdoors to cool the data centre on mild days.”

Byers concluded with some basic advice: it’s important to consider where and how the data is stored, of course, but what’s also important is your relationship with the people providing the service.

“Picking your data centre provider is not something you’d want to do multiple times in your life,” said Byers. “You want to be happy with the facility, and the people you are working with. Make sure you’re happy about the relationship with the provider. You can save 10 per cent and move to a lower-cost provider, but it’s not always worth it if dealing with the organization is difficult.”

This story appears in the April/May 2014 issue of IT in Canada. To read the rest of the issue, click here.

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