Like it or not, the consumer and commercial computing worlds are rapidly moving to a place where all things digital are captured, processed, and stored on someone else’s server, as opposed to your desktop, laptop, or work computer. Consequently, it’s increasingly important to know who and where your stuff is being stored.
When considering the purchase of data and cloud services, or if hosting sensitive information online, here are 10 things you’ll want to know:
- Background check. Are the people running the show experienced? Find out who they are and make sure you want to do business with them. Perform your own mini background check on the company. How long have they been in business? This is a partnership and usually long term because moving facilities and data is costly. Since the data center is the foundation for the technical systems that drive success for your business, you need to be able to trust and hold accountable your colocation provider to keep that foundation operational at all times. Since every company is different, a good vendor will tailor a cloud solution specific to your needs.
- Location. A picture is worth a thousand words. An on-site visit a million. So ask to see the data center space. If they don’t give tours, then have them give you a virtual online or picture tour. Many data center websites glamorize their center (or even misrepresenting it) by doctoring photos and or grabbing other data center photos. A personalized tour will also give you an idea of how easy it is to get into the building and how many security checkpoints their are. Access to the facility is a must and proximity to your business site is important. Furthermore, you should consider traffic delays and travel time for employees, in the event they need to visit the center. The site location in relationship to flood lines and natural disasters is important as well.
- Recovery. If someone guarantees you 100% up-time, they’re lying. Even computers get sick from time to time. So ask your prospective data center provider about downtime. Ask them when the last time they went down and how they corrected the problem. Do they have service level agreements, and what are they for power, cooling, and networking? Are their financial penalties for not meeting said agreements? Don’t blindly believe everything will be alright. Protect yourself as best you can before disaster strikes.
- Walk-in policy. Ask them who has access to enter the building and how might one get in to take a tour. A facility should give tours but not walk ins. Make sure they only allow visits by appointment only, that they ask for a drivers license, and that they do a little background check on you and your company. They should be inquisitive if not skeptical of visitors.
- Redundancy. This cannot be overstated. Don’t worry about how new or expensive equipment is. Make sure there are backups of backups for everything. For example, a single brand new CAT generator is worse than two used generators because of the single point of failure. Ask about facility redundancy (utility power, generators, HVAC, and UPS – battery power). Ask about network redundancy (upstream providers, fiber routes, core/distribution/access network equipment). Ask about geo redundancy, which differs from on-site redundancy. No matter how secure and redundant a single physical location is, mother-nature can easily level a single data center. So does the considered vendor have facility redundancy? If so, how much does it cost to have your data backed up from the primary data center to a secondary data center? Is that secondary facility wholly owned are do they lease space from another company? If it’s not wholly owned, then you will need to investigate their partner facility, which of course opens an additional security threat.
- Monitoring. Do the data center monitor their systems and how? If a data center is not monitoring every system they will unable to meet any assumed service level agreements, which will negatively affect your service level agreement with your customers. So ask to see a data center’s monitoring systems. In addition to monitoring their own systems, can your provider provide you access to view your dedicated power, environmental conditions (temp and humidity) and bandwidth usage? The data collected from this type of monitoring enables you to make more informed business decisions. When do you need to buy more power? Should you buy more power or consolidate? Is the temperature at your rack within your providers service level agreement? Should you commit more bandwidth to take advantage of a volume discounts?
- Technical staff and services. First and foremost, are remote hands available? There will be times when some simple button pushing with be required. In lieu of sending out one of your staff, can you call your provider and have them assist? How technically savvy is your provider? What types of services do they offer? Can you fill in the gaps with your own staff to perform specific functions? You’ll want to have answers to all these questions.
- Energy efficient (to save you money). Some sample questions: Is the facility cooled by air-side or water-side economizing? Using outside air to lowers power consumption. What about fire suppressants? Is the vendor using a “clean” agent? Are they using toxic batteries which must be disposed of at a higher price? Moving forward, will your data center be environmentally compliant? If not, you’ll need to foot the bill at some point.
- Competent racks. Obviously, your rack(s) need to be lockable. Some other questions: Are half and full racks available? Are there redundant power feeds to each box as well as redundant ethernet drops? Are blanking panels provided to stop your servers exhaust air from recirculating? If you can answer “yes” to all of the above, you’re off to a good start.
- Ask, ask, ask! When considering a data center facility, play “Mission Impossible” in your head. Try to crack the physical and network security and then ask the provider what they would do to protect against each scenario. Make sure you know what you are getting into with regard to racks and cages. Many data centers throw you into a common area. Ask them about “escort only” and around-the-clock access. Ask “what if” questions and don’t take “that will never happen” as an answer. Don’t be afraid to look stupid. This is your business you are talking about. You need to ask them the what if questions.
Lastly, ask about verified deletion. At some point, you may discontinue doing business with a data center. As such, after a transfer has taken place, you need to make sure your previous supplier doesn’t keep unnecessary backups of your files. In many cases, permenant deletion takes added time or costs. Make sure your prospective vendor assumes them as part of your agreement and how they will verify.
(Originally published on Dec 14, 2010)
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