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Data Center Best Practices During Covid-19

No corner of the world has been untouched by the Covid-19 pandemic.  Every industry has been impacted, including the data center industry.  What were operational best practices 2 months ago have changed and we all must learn to adapt to this new way of safely operating without completely shuttering doors because the world depends on data center operational efficiency and uptime.  While there are many ways to take advantage of things like cloud computing, edge networks, and colocations, there will always be a need for at least some staff to be ‘on the ground’ in data centers to keep them safely and effectively operating.  This leaves many data centers wondering – what exactly are data center best practices in a pandemic?

Keeping Data Center Staff Safe & Healthy During a Pandemic

While the world depends on data centers to power everything from our online shopping to hospital operations that are literally keeping people alive, it is the responsibility of data center operators to protect the safety of their staff.  Data center staff are essential employees so that means that no matter what stage of quarantine we experience in a pandemic, data center staff will always be required – or at least – allowed to be physically present at work.  But, as we now know, Covid-19 is extremely contagious and, even with the most stringent safety procedures in place, the outside world and human fallibility still exist so all data centers must prepare for the potentiality that critical staff will become ill and/or need to be quarantined for an indefinite length of time and therefore, contingency plans must be in place.

Cut Down on Travel Through Colocation, the Cloud, & Edge Networks

By expanding the use of edge networks, the cloud, and colocation, data centers are able to leverage tools and systems that we already know work well while cutting down on travel.  Rather than having fewer staff that can travel from data center to data center, increase local staff while cutting down on travel to limit potential Covid-19 exposure for staff.  This is an optimal solution for many data centers because it is not just a temporary solution during crisis but, rather, a forward-thinking solution that is more in line with what data center strategies are moving toward anyway.  By limiting travel between sites, you cut down on the risk that your entire data center staff could go down all at once, leaving you stranded without knowledgeable and capable staff to manage your mission-critical facility.

Mission Critical Magazine elaborates on the advantages of public and private cloud migration to better manage data centers during pandemic (and beyond), “Many enterprises are accelerating cloud migrations as an alternative to on-premises and colo deployment, reducing upfront hardware expenditures even though some public cloud applications will incur higher run-rate operating expenses over the long term. Cloud deployments can be very fast by traditional IT norms, and this speed-to-market can offer outsized benefits in times of rapid enterprise computing change. The push toward cloud benefits the largest public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) as well as colo providers that offer private cloud (more on this in No. 6) and value-added third parties. This has spurred procurement of additional data center capacity in the most prominent cloud locations. One interesting related effect now being evaluated by end users is out-migration (also termed “repatriation”) from the public cloud back to on-premises or colocation suites for applications and data sets that enterprises later determine to be too expensive or problematic for audit/compliance within a public cloud environment. Many enterprises have been worried about security risks and audit/compliance challenges associated with the public cloud, so they are choosing private cloud services from colo providers with an intermediate term contract period of six to 36 months. The colo providers have significantly improved their private cloud services, and, in many cases, can offer the benefits of public cloud (e.g., speed, flexibility, upfront savings) with superior audit/compliance measures by physically hosting the private cloud within the customer’s colo suite or elsewhere in the same building. This approach has been particularly attractive to enterprises on the general path toward cloud adoption that are not yet ready (or convinced) to migrate fully to public cloud.”

Create Shifts to Limit Potential Staff Exposure to Covid-19

The first line of defense for any data center is to limit facility access.  While only necessary personnel should be permitted inside a data center during a pandemic, there is more to a solid strategy than that.  The best way to limit exposure is to create diversely-skilled teams to work in shifts.  These teams should have the adequate skills necessary to manage the entirety of data center operations for their designated shift so that there is no overlapping personnel between shifts.  By doing so, should one team fall ill, there is still a completely capable team that can handle operations.  

On-Site Data Center Covid-19 Mitigation Strategies

In addition to the aforementioned strategies, there are other on-site mitigation strategies data centers can use in the fight against coronavirus.  Wearing proper protective equipment including a face mask and gloves should be standard operating procedure in every data center.  Deep cleaning with frequency is essential to protecting your staff’s safety and health.  This needs to be something that is on a strict schedule as a part of your DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) strategy.  All high-contact or ‘high-touch areas’ should be disinfected after each individual use or at change of shift if only one person is in contact with the area during a shift.  Any break room or shared space surfaces should be disinfected after each individual is present.  Eating is naturally a time in which germs are more likely to spread because you typically remove a face covering to eat and therefore the chance of spreading germs on surfaces far more likely.  Ideally, this type of cleaning should be happening around the clock, daily.  If possible, have a designated cleaning staff or individual circulate through your facility on a schedule to maintain a high level of cleanliness.  Further, it is a good idea to distribute hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes throughout your data center and particularly near doors and desks to prevent the spread of germs. 

For all other areas of the data center it is important to consult your manufacturer’s specifications as well as data center cleaning experts to ensure you are using the correct cleaning solutions for your equipment.  There are various spray disinfectant and fogging cleaning techniques that can be used safely (for equipment and individuals) to do a more effective job cleaning in data centers.  We may feel like we are living in a strange new world with such strict and stringent procedures that can feel somewhat cold and isolating but it is essential to take such measures to protect the health and safety of staff while maximizing data center uptime during a pandemic.

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