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The Italian earthquake and the recent eruption of Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano both show the sheer power of nature and that whatever measures we put in place to try and stop nature, our attempts can be quickly overwhelmed.

Recently I have been working with an organisation which provides data centres. It is a business which, until now, I didn’t know very much about. The company provides the shell to the data centre, along with the cooling, power to the site and management of the sites security. The client puts their own servers into the data space, provides their own network connection and manages their own servers. The data centre company has no access to the clients’ files and equipment but their responsibility is to manage the data centres infrastructure. The key to running the data centres is the work which goes into the infrastructure to ensure that any possible event which could lead to downtime is eliminated. Power feeds into the data centre will be doubled or tripled, there is extra chiller capacity, there are two banks of UPS and if the external power is lost, there are a number of standby generators. All the reserves are in placeto ensure that there is no downtime.

This is one of the few instances where the Recovery Time Objective is 0 hours as the data centre provider cannot tolerate any downtime. The consequence of downtime for the client may or may not be critical to their organisation, depending on the services their onsite servers provide, and the knock-on effect can be severe. As the data centre industry is very small, if you have an outage your rivals will very quickly hear about it and will use this when they are bidding against you. Secondly, your reputation with your clients might be irretrievably damaged, you may not get further work from them and they may cancel their contracts at their break points.

The problems at RIM -the Blackberry provider – with the loss of market share to Apple and Android, have seen their problems accentuated by their data centre outage in October when many of their customers lost Blackberry connectivity for a couple of days. This incident, coupled with their poor handling of it, has severely dented their reputation.Data centre providers have to do everything in their power to ensure that there is no downtime, by careful operation of their centres and putting the necessary back-up systems in place. Even 30 seconds of downtime could have a severe impact on their reputation within the industry, both with their current and potential new clients.

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