AFCOM survey shows August 14 blackout affected one-third of the U.S. data centers.

As if fighting hordes of hackers and crews of motivated network intruders was not enough headache for data center managers, they are now the first line of defense against such security threats as blackouts and hurricanes. According to the latest survey by AFCOM's Data Center Institute, the August 14 power failure affected almost one-third of the nation's information technology (IT) grid.

The Data Center Institute conducted the study shortly after the disaster that affected more than 50 million people in parts of the Northeast, Midwest, Canada and most of New York State –­ making this the largest and most costly blackout in American history. Nearly 500 data center professionals responded to the survey.

Their responses showed that recent events put renewed emphasis on disaster recovery planning and training. According to the survey, nearly half of the affected data centers had to shift to backup sources of power generation. Thirty-two percent say that parts of their IT environment were affected, while nearly one-third report that the failure completely shut down their data center(s).

Costs associated with temporary power loss can be considerable. Two percent of those surveyed said they suffered more than $10 million in productivity losses; one percent reported losses between $1 million and $5 million. Additionally, 10 percent reported losses of $100,000 to $500,000. The majority of those affected by the blackout, however, said that associated costs were less than $10,000.

Despite the scope of the geographic region affected by the blackout, most companies will not substantially increase their disaster recovery funding. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents report that the blackout will have no effect on their disaster recovery budget, while the majority of those planning a budgetary increase (65 percent) say it will be less than five percent.

Instead, both survey respondents as a whole and those whose data centers were affected by the blackout, plan on additional training and testing of backup power devices and existing disaster recovery plans in response to the power failure.

Those who actually experienced the blackout have put much more emphasis on training and preparing their staff for a disaster. Of those affected, 19 percent said they have plans to test backup power devices, compared with eight percent of those who were unaffected. Eighteen percent of those who lost power in the blackout will be conducting additional training, as opposed to eight percent of those unaffected by the blackout. Additionally, 17 percent of the affected data center executives plan to test existing disaster recovery plans, while just nine percent of those who were unaffected will be doing so.

The financial constraints leave data centers with the only option ­ to squeeze the most out of their existing resources and technology assets. Additional fact- finding research at the AFCOM September conference that coincided with Hurricane Isabel revealed a variety of cost-effective disaster recovery and prevention measures. These measures include:

  1. Make the most of what you already have. Training is the key to successful counter-disaster measures.
  2. Make sure your disaster recovery plan is tested.
  3. Take care of inexpensive gadgets that can make a world of difference such as flashlights, telephones that don't require power outlets, radios, walkie- talkies and batteries. Print out hard copies of disaster recovery procedures.
  4. Use a "hot" site with near real-time data backups. If there is no budget for this option, use a "warm" site with periodic backups.

Most importantly, be psychologically ready. Disaster can strike anywhere at any time. Rapid, confident decisions will make a difference between a multi- million-dollar loss and a successful, painless recovery. In short, become a real data center warrior, and you'll prevail over any calamity.

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