By Mike Talon
During any failover emergency, you need a place to actually fail over your systems to so you can get them back online. To secure the appropriate space, you'll need to work closely with the people who are responsible for facilities management in your organization.
In small organizations, this is probably the executive team. In large enterprises, there may be entire divisions responsible for planning and securing space for business operations.
Your best choice is to obtain dedicated space to house the DR facilities that the company owns. While this is often the most expensive option, you can limit the cost in a few ways.
First, see if you can take advantage of facilities that your company already owns but isn't currently using. As long as the locations are well outside the line-of-sight horizon, you can shore up these facilities with extra power and air conditioning, allowing them to find new life as backup data centers.
Or, look for new facilities that your company has acquired as a result of mergers or takeovers to house the data centers for DR operations. In many cases, you can find floor space already configured to run data operations, since the acquired company most likely has data centers for its operations that won't be necessary after the merger is complete.
You can also obtain dedicated space in a colocation facility, along with space to house vital employees during an emergency, which your company leases directly. However, in these cases, remember that your organization won't control the actual floor space.
If your organization is smaller in size or has recently downsized, there may not be available physical space or room in the budget to purchase additional space. There are many colocation centers available that allow you to lease data center space and even office space on a need-to-use basis.
One advantage of this option is that the rates to reserve this space are dramatically lower than renting dedicated hosting space. Companies such as SunGard offer this type of service to such a large number of clients worldwide that their rates are generally well within most budgets.
The downside is that your company may share this reserve space with multiple companies, operating under the idea that only one of the companies that needs the space will fail over at any give time. In the event of wide-scale emergencies, such as the recent power failures in the Northeast, multiple clients may need to fail over at the same time. Since most of these data centers operate on a first-declared, first-served basis, not everyone may be able to fail over at once.
If the first two options aren't viable, consider working with another company to share data center space to allow both organizations to have a location for failover. While this is the cheapest methodology, it also has the most severe drawbacks.
But your organization can take steps to mitigate these drawbacks. First, find a company that's willing and able to host your systems while you host its systems. Next, ensure the company in question won't be a security risk. Finally, arrange for proper staffing, since the other company will most likely not be able to provide staff to manage your systems in addition to its own.
This option works best between companies that already have cooperative agreements such as joint ventures or that are subsidiaries of larger companies. Leverage anything you can—if you're going down this route, it won't be an easy run.
No matter how you secure space to house your DR efforts, it's a necessary step in your business continuity planning process. Talk to the facility management people in your organization, and get the floor space you need. This way, you can be sure data systems have a home during an emergency—even if you can't get there when the lights go out.
Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.