When it comes to storing and processing your business’ data using a 3rd party data center and/or hosting providers, there are many factors to consider and not all of them are verifiable by you with complete guarantee of being true, but there is one aspect that you can investigate pretty easily and get a decent idea about. Anyone who either is a home owner or is familiar with the real estate business knows that when purchasing property there is one factor that has a tremendous influence on the price and it is …you probably guessed it by now “location, location, location” that’s what it is all about.
Considering that almost no business can operate today without being dependent on data processing, storage and mobile data access and the information technology infrastructure has become a commodity we tend to employ 3rd party providers to host our data in their facilities. The importance of your data whereabouts has become a vital factor in making a choice of colocation or cloud provider. Have a look at the “Critical decision making points when choosing your IT provider” and let’s focus on the location factor in your decision making process on whom to entrust your data.
Considering the location
There certain key factors to consider when it comes to the location of the provider facilities in order to make the most suitable choice for your business:
- Natural disasters: What is the likelihood of environmental calamities like hurricanes, tornadoes, catastrophic hail, major flooding and earthquakes in the area historically and statistically? Natural disaster hazards are a serious threat due to human inability to always forecast them and complete lack of control of these events. Having a disaster recovery or a fail over site in a location that is prone to natural disasters is dangerous and defeats the purpose of this precaution. If your primary data center is located in an accident prone area you should make sure that your disaster recovery and backup sites are outside of high risk zones.
- Connectivity and latency: Location of a data center will have a tremendous impact on the selection and the amount of available carriers providing network services. Remote and hard to reach locations will suffer from smaller selection. Data centers in the vicinity of Internet Exchange and Network Access Points enjoy rich selection of carriers and thus often lower latency and higher bandwidth at lower costs. Ideally a multi-tenant data center should be considered a carrier neutral facility, which pretty much means that the company owning the data center is entirely independent of any network provider and thus not in direct competition with them. This usually is a great incentive for carriers to want to offer their services in such facility.
- Security: Are the facilities in an area that is easy to secure and designated for business? Considering crime and accidents is this low risk area? Is the facility unmarked and hard to spot during a random check? Data center structures should be hard to detect for passersby and should be in areas that are easy to secure and monitor. Areas with high traffic and crime would increase the risk of your data being vulnerable to theft by physical access.
- Political and economic stability: Political and economic stability are critical factors in choosing the location. Countries that show a track record of civil distress and economical struggle can prove to be high risk due to the possibility of facilities seizures due to political reasons or higher risk of bankruptcy. Having a threat of government being overthrown and your data seized or your colocation provider filing for Chapter 13 due to currency devaluation are a huge no-go in any way you look at it. Stability is a key to guarantee your business continuity.
- Local laws and culture: Both can have a negative impact on your business from losing ownership of data to not being to operate with the same standards that you might be used to and expect. Make sure that you are not breaking any laws in the country your data resides in, what is allowed in one country could be illegal elsewhere. For example infringement and copyright laws vary greatly between countries and some of your customers’ data could put you in a tight spot. Furthermore make sure that the language and cultural barriers will not turn out to be show stoppers when it comes to your daily operations and in need of troubleshooting.
- Future growth: You might think it’s hasty and pointless to look into expansion and growth possibilities that your provider can sustain, but nothing is further from the truth. Finding out that your provider cannot accommodate your growth when you do need to expand can turn into a very pricey endeavor leading to splitting your infrastructure across multiple locations or even forcing you to a provider switch. Always make sure the data center has room to grow and not only space wise, but most importantly power wise. Today’s data centers will sooner cope with the shortage of power supply then with a shortage of space. Find out what is their growth potential in space and power and how soon can they be realized, as you need to know how quickly can they adapt to buffer all their customers growth this being a multi-tenant facility.
- Redundancy: The location of the facility will also have an impact on its redundancy. To name a few things of importance in order to run mission critical applications would be continuous access to power from multiple sources in case of outages. Multiple fiber entry into the facility will also ensure increased network redundancy. Redundant cooling and environmental controls are also a must to guarantee operationality. These are the basics redundancy factors and depending on your specific requirements for availability you might need to look much deeper than just your facility infrastructure redundancy. Talk to your provider about this, they will offer you advice.
- Accessibility: This is a factor important for multiple reasons, from security concerns to daily operations and disaster situations. Accessibility for specialized maintenance staff and emergency services in case of crisis as well as transportation of equipment and supplies within a reasonable amount of time is of vital importance. Facilities that are outside or immediate reach of such amenities have an increased risk of failure and increased recovery time in case of incidents. There could also be a question of the need of your staff physically accessing the equipment, but with today’s data center providers offering remote hands and usually managed services you can avoid such complications and have provider’s local personnel take care of all physical repairs and trouble shooting.
The choice of your provider and its location will have severe consequences for your business if things go wrong and they do go wrong. Data Center Knowledge has made an overview of last year’s top 10 Outages and as you can see some big players in the industry have been brought to their knees.
Such disruptions of service carry tremendous costs for the data centers and those expenses have been increasing yearly. Just to give you an idea what kind of money losses I am talking about here take a look at the findings of Emerson Network Power and Ponemon Institute study.
“The study of U.S.-based data centers quantifies the cost of an unplanned data center outage at slightly more than $7,900 per minute.”
– Emerson Network Power, Ponemon Institute
The companies included in this study listed various reasons for outages from faulty equipment to human error, but 30 percent named weather-related reasons as a root cause.
You can bet on it that these losses need to be compensated somewhere may it be by increase in prices or decrease in staff pay (which usually means hiring less qualified personnel) just to name a few corners that could be cut. While at the same time you might be aiming to accomplish more with steady or perhaps decreasing IT budgets, such actions on provider’s side will prove to be counterproductive when trying to achieve your goals.
These are the average costs of the data center outages for the companies running them and we haven’t even touched the damages to businesses that are suffering from such outages. Your services being unavailable could end up costing you money directly by not meeting your SLA’s or losing customers’ orders to your operation coming to an abrupt stop. Long term impact might be a reputation hit and thus decrease in trust of your businesses abilities. Additionally if you are actively running marketing campaigns and invest in trade shows and other public promotional activities, the event of service outage on your part can reduce their impact on increasing you brand popularity. There is a number of factors that influence just how much downtime actually can cost your business and they are strictly tied to how much your entire operation depends on Information Technology all together and how much of it is being affected by outages, this is however outside of the scope of this article.
Depending on the dynamics of your business the requirements from compliance, law, budgeting and even personal bias of the decision makers will render some of the above mentioned factors of more or less importance, but in the end this decision will have a short and long term impact on your business continuity. So if you are involved in the decision making process my advice is: do your homework, talk to the providers, if possible visit the facilities and take in to account the points above. If you are expecting growth or perhaps want to make a switch from legacy systems (if they are a part of technology supporting your current operations) and you are considering leveraging Infrastructure-as-a-Service models then talk to the providers on your list and see if they offer such services and can accommodate your needs. Following these steps you can decrease and even completely avoid data center location choice negatively impacting your business’ bottom line!
Written By: Martin Wielomski
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