Distance From Main Facility
For many years, it was assumed that a DR site was close enough to the main facility as long as the two sites were within a two-hour flight of one another. The thinking was that if an incident forced the DR site to go into operation, the facility owner could have people at the DR site within 4-6 hours of the incident. This 4-6 hours takes into account the time needed to drive to the airport, wait for the flight, then drive from the destination airport to the DR site.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001 have changed the way we view potential threats and have therefore changed these criteria. More and more, the new thinking is that a DR site must be within a five-hour drive of the main facility with at least two available routes by car. Because we now add terrorist threats to our list of risks, and knowing that these threats have caused airports to close for long periods in the past, our worst-case scenarios must now assume that flying to a DR site may no longer be a possibility.
The above graphic is an illustrative example of acceptable alternate driving routes between a DR site and main facility. Using this example, there may be a main facility in Kansas City and a backup site in St. Louis. Or, there may be a main facility in St. Louis with a backup site in Chicago. The five-hour drive puts people on site in a reasonable amount of time, and the diverse driving routes help ensure their arrival.
Potential Disaster Risk
When looking for a location for your backup data center, you will want to assess the potential threats in the areas surrounding potential sites. Threats fall into three basic categories: mechanical risks (machine or software failure), man-made risks and natural disasters. Man-made risks include such things as railway accidents and oil refinery fires, while natural disasters include hurricanes, earthquakes, and the like.
A recent survey published in DRJ suggests that, in the case of man-made risks such as civilian airports and power grid outages, a minimum separation of 20-30 miles between main facility and DR site is needed to help ensure safety. The survey further suggests that for threats such as forest fires and floods, a minimum separation of 40-50 miles is appropriate, while major threats such as earthquakes and hurricanes require a minimum separation of 60-105 miles.
Local Availability of Staff
Often overlooked in selecting a data center site is the availability of local IT staff to man the facility. Locating a data center in a less-populated area may make it very difficult to find sufficient available qualified staff. Choosing a site with a university or other technical college nearby may help to increase the odds of finding qualified data center personnel. The need for local staff at a DR site is, of course, affected by whether the backup facility will be permanently manned, or manned only in times when the main facility is down. In either case, there will be a need for local facility maintenance staff. As this staff can prevent or shorten facility related outages, it is crucial to know if there is qualified maintenance staff available, whether on a permanent or contracted basis. It is important to review your need for manpower and research the availability of potential qualified personnel in the area.
Availability and Quality of Utility Power
The recent power outage that plagued the Northeastern U.S. has brought new light to the importance of reliable power generation and backup power. Many facility owners in that region now understand, first hand, the impact of losing their business operations for three to five days. Unfortunately, no one could have predicted such an outage, and we cannot expect to be able to predict such outages in the future. What is important is that we learn some valuable lessons from that experience.
As much as possible, we need to do our homework in finding out how a new facility will be linked to the utility power grid and ensure that sufficient backup power is available in the case of a utility outage. While an in-depth study of the national power grid is impractical (if not impossible) for most data center managers, there are some simple steps that can be taken to help ensure the availability of reliable utility power. First, when looking at real estate, ask the local power company if they can provide dual power feeds to that site. Be careful with this question, however, because “dual power feeds” means different things to different people. In many cases, “dual feeds” simply means having two building entrances from the same sub-station. Ideally, though, you’ll want separate power feeds from two different utility sub-stations. This will provide you with an extra layer of redundancy that should significantly reduce your utility outages.
If separate feeds from separate sub-stations already exist in a certain location, making the connections to your facility is easy enough. However, if your potential site has power from only a single sub-station, it may be very expensive to have another feed built. The cost of building this additional feed typically depends on the distance from the facility site to the nearest duplicate sub-station. Before making any commitments, it is important to determine the cost of building that second power feed, then decide how the cost, as well as the benefits of the second feed, fit with your business plan.
When it comes to power, the other important issue to consider is backup power. Providing on-site backup power generation is important for any data center owner. In areas where power outages are common, however, facility owners will find their backup power systems are overused, shortening the life of their power generation equipment. In order to lessen the chances of falling into such a situation, it is important to do some homework before committing to the purchase of any real estate. Talk to neighboring building owners to find out how often their power is out. Ask local engineering companies for historical records. You may ask the power company for this information directly, but an impartial source of information is always the most reliable.
Nearby Fiber Routes
A DR facility developer should take advantage of the abundance of dark fiber available in most areas. When looking for real estate, be sure to contact local telecommunications companies to inquire about the location and availability of dark fiber for lease. Also, when determining which dark fiber routes are best for your facility, keep in mind the benefits of having diverse building entrances, and potentially having diverse fiber routing all the way back to the main facility, depending on your business needs and financial resources.
Specific IT Criteria
Depending on the nature of your business, and the equipment housed in your facilities, you may find that your network equipment limits the maximum distance between your main facility and your DR site. A company’s application and data availability solution, for example, may be limited to 100 km of facility separation. It is very important to review all IT equipment distance limitations prior to beginning a search for real estate.
If capital availability is limited, strategically locating a new facility might help shoulder the financial burden. Often overlooked is that many local governments are willing to provide some financial relief to companies that bring new business and new jobs to their area. If you are still in the early stages of facility planning and real estate discovery, the following tax incentives may be worth looking into:
- Brownfields Cleanup and Redevelopment, tax incentive to spur the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields in distressed urban and rural areas (www.epa.gov).
- Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a government financing mechanism that utilizes the increase in tax revenue resulting from a new development to support the repayment of bonds used to finance the project.
- State, county, and local municipalities often have special incentive programs for those who bring new facilities and businesses to their area. The level of incentive is often related to the number of new jobs created by the development.
Contact local government authorities to find out what other tax incentives may be available in your area.
The long-term success of your business depends largely on your data center facilities. Finding a good site for your future DR facility will go a long way toward ensuring business success. Once a facility site is decided upon, the real work begins. In a future article, we will discuss properly budgeting for a new disaster recovery facility.
Bill Bick is president of Bick Group where he has been involved with data center planning and development for 29 years. Since 1964, Bick Group has provided planning, building, and maintenance services for data centers of all sizes. Contact Bick by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.