Thursday, November 30, 2006

More On How To Choose A Data Center

As a follow-up to an earlier article "How To Choose A Data Center"....here are just a few other considerations / concerns I would recommend. Combine the lists from both articles and you're more likely to make a smart decision choosing a data center.

Current Customers:

This is not a guaranteed seal of approval, but a Data Center's current customer base should give you an idea of the type of due diligence that others have performed on the Data Center you are evaluating. If numerous Fortune 50 companies are at a Data Center then there is a good chance it is a reliable place to keep your servers. NOTE: Some Data Centers will take on a "marquee" client at a loss in order to get the brand name. Make sure there are at least 2 high profile companies colocated there.

Employee Retention:

Ask the company how long the facility engineers have worked for that particular Data Center. High turn-over can be an indication of a number of things (including issues).

Power Outages:

Ask about the last power issue / outage they suffered - time-frame, length of the outage, reason(s) for the outage, mitigation steps. Most Data Centers will face some time of issue over the course of its use and you want to make sure they are honest with you about past issues, and have taken steps to correct any errors.

Bandwidth Connectivity:

How many "separate" bandwidth feeds are coming into the facility? A lot of companies say they have peering with "numerous" providers. BUT, all of that fiber may be coming into the building in single conduit. That means that if someone is digging a trench your Internet access may be cut off.

A top resource for determining your own business bandwidth requirements (T1, DS3, OC3, etc.)....at no cost to you....is the the free services of DS3-Bandwidth.com.

Data Centers requiring the most cost effective bandwidth solutions available at their location (OC3, OC12, OC48, OC192, etc.)....should take advantage of the free consultation and support from Data Center Bandwidth

Expansion:

If your company makes it big, will you have room to grow? Right now there are a LOT of Data Centers out of space and / or power. Make sure you aren't in a position where you have to choose another place to go down the road.

SLAs (Service Level Agreement):

Although there is no compensation for your e-commerce site taking a hit for an hour, make sure there are strict SLAs in place which will bring some financial relief in the case of an outage.

Managed Hosting:

There is a trade-off between owning the equipment (and keeping it at a Data Center), and utilizing a managed hosting provider. Make sure to analyze the pros and cons of both based on the current and future needs of your business. If you have older equipment, don't want to staff-up, I.T. isn't your core competence, etc, then consider going managed.

Data Recovery:

No matter where you go...make sure you have a DR plan in place. Keep backups of everything off-site and have a plan of action (hot-spares, DNS change-over, contact list, etc).

Fire suppression systems:

What provisions does the facility have for fire suppression? Is it a regular sprinkler system, Dry Pip Pre-action, gaseous CO2 or something else.

A Water based system is to protect the building, it will not protect the systems or the data because you're spraying water on computer systems in the event of a fire. A Pre-action system with dry pipes that only charge when there is a fire detected (smoke and heat detectors) is better because it prevents a construction accident where a sprinkler head is bumped or a pipe is broken from causing an incident.

Gaseous CO2, Energen, Halotron, Halon, etc are best, but more expensive. A combination of CO2 where power is run (under the floor perhaps?) and Pre-action sprinkler's above allows for a small fire to be contained in the underfloor space before water enters into the equation.

One thing to be very wary are what kind of hand held extinguishers are in the Data Center space? Are they Dry Chemical? If so, that's bad. Very bad. A fire (say in a garbage can) that would not jeopardize the data center or building can be made worse (in terms of the protection of the data center) because when someone goes to fight that fire, they're going to perhaps put the fire out (likely if small) but very likely spread a corrosive dust around the data center which will require either replacement of the systems OR professional cleaning of them. Look for halogenated or CO2 type extinguishers in the data-center for handheld use.

Physical Security:

Armed security guards are better than not armed in my opinion. Better training (ie more) and a more serious perspective on security of the building and the people. Guards more able to respond to serious problems are preferable to an old retiring that's more of a night watchman who calls 911 when there's an issue.

Physical Structure security is also important. What kind of walls does the building have? Are they several layers of concrete block or just one layer? Is it glass? Bullet Resistant glass (also good in storms) and is there an inner layer between the glass and the rest of the facility?

Do they have spill protection kits for dealing with water leaks? If there's a major rain storm and the roof is damaged, how does this impact the facility? Badly, slightly, total shutdown? Look for drip pans over critical infrastructure like PDUs and UPS systems.

Logistics:

Does the facility have a good loading dock that's near the data center or sufficiently proximate? If not, you're going to have a harder time getting your systems to the data center to install them. A good sized door large enough for the largest of racks and gear is important. Is there a lab where you can diagnose problems with your systems there? An area where you can stand up your systems if you need to? How are you getting final configuration work done at the site?

Generator Power:

Fuel Supplies cannot be underscored. A large on-site bunker is a good thing to see. A contract with a fuel supplier to be able to provide supplemental fuel on a daily basis is also important. I've seen an instance where a call center was left without power because the backup generator ran out of fuel after running for 24 hours. No-one thought o check the generator and get a fuel shipment to the call center.

Generator Maintenance can be important as well. A periodic maintenance contract with a major service company is good. But having someone that rides herd on the generator and power systems themselves is also important. Many small things that would not be noticed by a rotating batch of mechanics would be noticed by someone that can get a feel for all of the systems and perform periodic checks. It could be as simple as noticing that Generator No 2 sounds off and realizing there's an exhaust leak or as complex as a lubrication problem that is only found by periodic oil and coolant analysis by a lab that specializes in such tasks.

Periodic maintenance of the fuel is also important. Fuel that becomes contaminated with water can stop a generator system cold if bacteria begin growing in the fuel. The sludge that the bacteria produce will clog injectors and pumps as well as the fuel filters themselves. Periodic checks of the fuel as well as polishing and treatment is important.

There you go. Now you're fully armed with all the details you need to select just the right data center to meet your needs....and expectations.

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