Data Centers

Minimize data loss from power outages by following these six tips

Researchers from the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security offer recommendations on how to be proactive about minimizing the damage from power failures.

 

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 Image: Trioh
 

IT professionals grab two things when the power goes out: a flashlight and a bottle of TUMS. In spite of their best efforts, data will be lost. And, management's wrath quickly finds its way to the IT department.

Rather than suggest a new UPS or a state-of-the-art backup generator for when the next blackout hits, I'm passing along information I gleaned from the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) report, Power Supply Dependencies in the Electronic Communications Sector (PDF download).

The paper looks at power outages from a risk assessment point of view. The report starts out with authors Christoffer Karsberg, Dr. Konstantinos Moulinos, and Dr. Marnix Dekker announcing their goal of answering the following questions:

  • What will help reduce the frequency of power disruptions and outages?
  • What can improve the electronic communications sector's ability to handle power disruptions and outages?

After sifting through all data relevant to power outages (ENISA tracks power outages in the EU), the authors asked major communications and networking National Regulatory Authorities (NRA) what they are doing to avoid data and telecoms interruptions due to losing power. The report lists the questions asked and which agencies participated.

The authors then worked their magic and came up with recommendations. I studied their recommendations, and there's a lot of good advice that can be added to existing contingency plans to reduce the impact of power outages. I paraphrased the recommendations so they were more meaningful to IT professionals responsible for protecting company assets during a power failure.

Recommendations

1: Analyze the frequency and impact of network and service disruptions caused by power outages and pay special attention to the following:

  • Expected number of service disruptions within a given time frame;
  • Length of these service disruptions;
  • Impact in terms of number of users and services affected; and
  • Severity of these incidents, distinguishing between degradations and full outages.

2: Collaborate with providers to collect good practices that can be used to better survive power outages.

3: Perform a risk assessment, including a cost-benefit analysis, to determine what is reasonable to expect from providers (power and services) during power outages.

4: Check existing protection measures regularly to avoid or at least reduce network and service disruptions from power outages. (The report emphasizes the need to consider employees who work offsite.)

5: Review network and service issues caused by power outages in order to avoid or reduce the impact of the next power outage.

6: Establish cooperation between power companies, internal departments, and remote service providers upon which the company is dependent. 

Join the discussion

Are there tips that you would add to this list of recommendations? If so, please post them in the discussion.

 

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Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

4 comments
James Stevenson
James Stevenson

Businesses need to stop thinking about a "What-if" but more towards to the inevitable disaster recovery. It should be viewed in a similar light to car insurance - you doubt that the inevitable will happen but you'd rather be safe than sorry. 


My tip would be to service your IT on a regular basis. Ensure that there are multiple backups of different versions of files to ensure that you have fall back files in case the most recent ones become corrupt. It would also be highly beneficial to backup data in the cloud as many data centers are equipped with much higher levels of security than business IT systems. 



Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

Although I have not read the ENISA document yet, I can say that the recommendations given in this article are not enough to prevent data lose due to power outages and other natural phenomena. The best advices I can give to prevent data lose are as follow:

  1. Always expect the unexpected and be prepared for it with a well-designed data center.

  2. Data loss can cost a company millions of dollars if lost and most of the times the data loss cannot be recuperated even backups are done on a daily basis as is usually the case.

  3. Be as power independent as can be, especially now that power technologies have matured.

  4. Power outages can be due to severe weather conditions, electric storms, and other environmental issues and at times negligence on the part of the power company providing services.

  5. Management ignorance regarding budgets to data centers and curtailing spending when it comes to protection of computer systems, not only from power outrages but also from surges due to noise in the power lines which can travel miles through the power cables and damage electronic equipment down the line and hence the loss of data and equipment.

  6. Electro Static Discharge (ESD) is also a problem in data centers and most be avoided at all cost.

  7. Obtain a weather map and know the environmental issues you will face and design the data center as to eliminate the threats, not only due to power outages but also due to electric storms in the region and other weather conditions.

  8. Isolate the Data Center power from the rest of the building and have at the very least UPS equipment with zero delay response and be capable to sustain power for the Data Center while data is fully backed up and an orderly shutdown is in effect. A power generator is also ideal as well as a solar/wind power system.

There are other IT issues now days that must also be considered in order to protect the data and not inherent to power outages.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

@Cicuta2011  


You are correct. What I was trying to emphasis what that companies need to be more proactive. I have been in situations where the company did not know who to call to find out when the power company estimated the power would be back on as that is significant in determining what actions to take.