The preparedness paradigm: Ensuring data security during natural disasters

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Natural disasters represent a pressing issue for data centers, in particular when it comes to problems of data security and overall uptime – and with climate change creating more extreme weather events, problems are likely to arise even more often.

How, then, will data centers cope with these changes? Across the board, data centers are developing disaster preparedness plans meant to minimize the consequences of such events, but the fact is that it’s time for a paradigm shift. Data centers need to live within the preparedness framework, not just have a plan on hand for emergencies.

Insights From The Uptime Institute

When it comes to data center preparedness, the ultimate authority is the Uptime Institute, a group that studies, designs and certifies data centers and supports their operations, and the organization has some important new research regarding extreme weather events.

According to their new report on the impact of natural disasters on data centers, as reported by NetworkWorld, “Climate change is making us rethink resiliency and operational uptime. Now more than ever, it is crucial to understand any potential vulnerabilities to make new and existing facilities better prepared for extreme weather events.”

Essentially, the Uptime Institute is telling data center managers that the expectations of data centers don’t match their current capacity, and managers need to take steps to meet those new demands. Unfortunately, too many business owners think they’re sufficiently prepared, with 90 percent of companies saying they don’t need to take additional steps to protect their data centers from floods. It’s hard to make change when you don’t think there’s a problem.

Structural Preparedness

One of the best ways that data centers can prepare themselves for changing environmental norms is by building for extreme weather events in the first place.

This is what the Australian data center company NEXTDC has done. Their first Sydney data center has Uptime Institute Tier III Gold Certification of Operational Sustainability and a 100 percent uptime guarantee. This exceeds the five-nine standard, or 99.999 percent uptime goal for data center performance. NEXTDC is also working on centers that will offer both this uptime guarantee and top-level energy efficiency, minimizing their environmental footprint.

Obviously, this solution doesn’t much help data centers that don’t currently meet these certification aims, but that’s hardly the only approach to data security. Advance planning, retrofits, and other strategic approaches can all help reduce downtime and protect client data.

For example, performing regular data backups can prevent clients from losing important information, as well as suffering major financial consequences, while ensuring that your data center has fully functioning and fueled backup generators can also help reduce downtime.

Emphasizing Resiliency

There is still a lot we don’t know about extreme weather events because the patterns are still changing, but there are a number of tools that can support data center professionals working to move forward – and focusing on resiliency rather than resistance is a key part of this emerging framework. Though we can make better predictions about weather conditions using AI and other modeling technology, it’s not always possible to predict how those conditions will impact data centers. A preparedness model can help data centers recover as quickly as possible after a disaster.

Simple practices like developing pre- and post-disaster checklists, participating in disaster preparedness drills, and working cooperatively with clients can all help minimize the impact of major weather events and help staff follow protocols in the event of a disaster.

Moreover, it’s vital that data center companies actively assess their own performance after serious weather events and identify weaknesses in their current plans. We don’t know enough to insist on a single approach to natural disasters. For now, data centers need to stay flexible and keep adapting their plans.

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