When you flip on the TV and meteorologists are getting as much airtime as the news anchors, you know it’s hurricane season along the Gulf Coast. That’s the time to worry about the safety of your family and friends, not your data.

Whether you’re thinking about colocation for the first time or are evaluating your current provider, the seven key questions below will help you get started.

  1. How storm-resistant is the colocation facility?

    When it comes to storm-resistance, the first question to ask is whether the building is located in a flood zone, ideally outside of a 500-year floodplain. Has the facility remained accessible to vehicular traffic during natural disaster events since it was constructed? It’s also critical for the building to have been constructed or retrofitted in a way that makes it “storm-hardened,” which dramatically reduces the likelihood of hurricane damage and loss of access. This process typically involves concrete construction and a wind-rated roof. Also, installation of blast guard window film—the type used in U.S. embassies to protect against bomb blasts—is necessary to prevent water penetration, damage, and injuries from flying glass and debris.

  2. How resilient is the data center’s infrastructure?

    Since the integrity of your data is dependent upon power, cooling and Internet service, a 100% uptime service level agreement (SLA) is critical. While many data centers offer a 100% uptime SLA in writing, they’ll rely on insurance policies to compensate for failures. If you don’t have tolerance for downtime, choose a provider that has the right continuity plans in place to back the guarantee. For example, a blended Internet solution typically incorporates three different services so when one goes out, two backups remain.

    Even during a hurricane, the environment of the data center can never change, so insist on redundancy and concurrent maintainability for the critical systems delivering power and cooling. If a component of the system goes down, this structure ensures functionality even in the event of a component failure.

    When it comes to the backup generator, your provider should offer 100% coverage for the entire facility at full capacity for a minimum of 24 hours, which must be run and load-tested on a regular basis. To support this, two or more geographically diverse fuel suppliers should be on standby. Also find out how often critical cooling, fire alarm and suppression systems are maintained. Keep in mind that some cooling systems rely on cooling towers that will not operate without public utility services, which are often down for a period of time following natural disasters. In addition, it’s important to know how often they maintain and test critical infrastructure components. Are they operating “stand-by” gear in a lead/lag rotation so they know it will work when needed?

  3. How available and responsive are onsite personnel?

    During a natural disaster, pandemic or other event, do you have the ability to reach someone 24/7 who is physically staffing the data center to handle any number of immediate requests, from checking lights and cables to replacing hard drives and racking equipment shipped to the data center? When asking this question, know that most calls to data centers in the U.S. can take critical minutes to be answered by operators working in other parts of the country or world. Many then require you to submit a support ticket before passing you through to someone who you can talk to about your account, let alone being able to speak to someone who is physically working at your data center. So insist on complete transparency and onsite support from your partner, with no hidden surprises.

  4. Is resilient office space available adjacent to or near the data center to ensure business continuity?

    For business continuity, many emergency response companies offer over-subscribed office spaces or will haul in portable trailers to serve as temporary workspace after the storm passes. While that sounds like a convenient solution, it doesn’t take flooded roads and power outages into account, and takes hours or even days to bring online.

    A more reliable option is dedicated, resilient office space for your mission-critical employees. Easy access is important. Ideally, it should be adjacent to or located within a few travel hours from the primary office, situated along major roadways that have been historically passable after hurricanes, and near local lodging and dining options. The space should have similar resiliency to the data center with generator backup power, available UPS and a dark fiber cross connection to the data center environment.

  5. Is there an access and physical security plan in place at the data center?

    When your personnel need emergency access to the data center, there’s no time to waste. Be sure the partner is prepared to issue access via biometric and/or access cards that rely on multi-factor authentication. They also must maintain a current list of approved employees should they forget or misplace their access credentials. Furthermore, colocation personnel must be flexible enough to follow the proper channels established by your company for granting and removing access quickly when your list is updated.

    The data center itself must be a safe, secure place with 24/7 onsite security guards. Closed-circuit TV systems should be monitored in real-time, with footage archived for at least 30 days. All doors must have alarms to alert security personnel when they don’t close properly, as well as constructed in a manner that prevents “piggy-backing” on someone else’s credentials.

  6. Has the data center been put to the test?

    Every data center has to start somewhere, but wouldn’t you feel better knowing your provider has already been put to the test? Find out what natural disasters they’ve already gone through such as Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Harvey and the Tax Day flood. Ask to speak with customers who were around during those times. Also inquire about their COVID-19 emergency plan, then consider how well your colocation center is equipped to deal with the next hurricane in the midst of a pandemic. In an emergency, your partner must be nimble enough to do what is necessary to ensure success, like boosting bandwidth, then catch up on the paperwork later.

  7. Do data center staff members go above and beyond to provide excellent customer service, even under the worst circumstances?

    When you’re working during a time of crisis, you need a partner that not only meets your technical needs, but also exceeds your customer service expectations. Ask if the onsite personnel will be available to prepare and facilitate your team’s emergency arrival, which can mean anything from reconfiguring workstations to accommodate a certain number of employees to stocking the pantry with your favorite foods and drinks. When tensions are running high, it’s often the intangible services that matter most.

Even though hurricane season has already begun, there’s still time to put your data protection and business continuity plans in place. Call Fibertown to discuss your options today so you can focus on your life instead of your data when a hurricane appears on the radar.

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