Do I Need a Data Center?

By: Chris Witt

Do I Need a Data Center?

If you still own your own data center and this question has not already crossed your mind, then you might be spending more money than you need, subjecting your organization to unnecessary risk, or both. Your data center is the foundation for all your core computing resources. Any flaws in the data center puts everything installed in the data center, no matter how well implemented, at risk as well.

So what do you do? You need to securely house your servers and storage somewhere, and not go broke doing it correctly. Today, you have far more choices than you did just ten years ago. The added choices include numerous viable offsite solutions. While there are many permutations, the two basic choices boil down to keeping your data center in house or have someone else host it for you.

Regardless of the number of choices you want to consider, we always recommend to our clients that they evaluate fixing what they already have. It’s the devil you know.

Evaluate Your Options

Before you evaluate your options, you need to understand your risks and how much risk you are willing to accept. Are you a 9 – 5 business that only requires computing functions during the typical workday or are you a 7/24/365 operation that tolerates no downtime? If you have an outage, can it affect the delivery of patient care? Are you putting someone’s life at risk? Do you know how much it costs your organization for every hour of unplanned downtime? Did you know it costs about $100,000 per hour of downtime for a small to medium sized hospital?

Know Your Risks

Risks come in all shapes and sizes. Knowing your particular risk areas empowers you to either accept that risk and the consequences, or fix it. When looking at the data center, your risk areas are in facilities, operations, and monitoring. Is the physical plant appropriate to house a data center? Do you have sufficient power and cooling capacity? Is the data center structured correctly – hot/cold isles, airflow, rack layout? Is it secure? Do you have a dedicated data center operations group who oversees all activities? Are they always on hand when the data center is operating? Do they have well defined policies, procedures, and processes? And are they following them? Are you able to monitor, alert, and report on all activities taking place in and around your data center? There are a lot of questions and until you objectively assess your situation, you will never know where the bodies are buried.

Making A Decision

Ultimately, you need to make a decision. This is not a decision to be made emotionally. It is a strategic business decision. Is owning and operating a data center a core strategic part of your business? If you are an IBM, Comcast, or Verizon, I would say Yes – Owning and operating your own data center is very strategic to your core business. If you are a hospital, manufacturer of goods, or a services oriented company, a data center plays a supporting role rather than being a core strategic function. You also have to evaluate financial models for keeping it in house and moving to an outside managed services solution. This is not always a pleasant exercise because it involves making hard decisions about giving up control of your assets and potentially reducing the size of your staff.

Every option has its pros and cons. There is definitely no “one size, fits all” type of solution out there. But knowing your current risks, understanding the risk tolerance of your organization, and having a clear organizational strategy will help guide you through the process. As a local clothing retailer used to say, “An educated consumer is our best customer”. This is also true in the data center world. We are “Architecting IT for the Future”.

So why are you in the data center business?

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