The pivotal role of server rooms in business continuity

Published: Wednesday, 10 June 2015 07:58

Businesses often struggle on with legacy server rooms due to budget constraints and fear of upgrade risks. In this article Mark Allingham challenges BC managers to face up to this problem.

The server room is the beating heart of any but the smallest business. You rely on your servers for vital files, essential information and the day to day running of the organization, so any risk of failure is a considerable threat to business continuity. Legacy server rooms with outdated equipment and limited capacity are liable to power outages, downtime and worse. So any business continuity manager should consider carefully whether their existing server room is fit for purpose.

Why up-to-date server rooms are more than important

Within any organization, the server room is a highly precious asset, second only to the employees who utilise it (and who would be unable to do their jobs without it). But finance departments and decision makers within the company can often take the server room for granted, neglecting to budget for timely upgrades. It often down to the business continuity manager to reinforce the idea that however frugal your approach to business equipment, your server room is one area in which you cannot afford to scrimp. The alternative could be a far costlier option for your business in the long run.

The risks posed by legacy server rooms

Legacy server rooms – containing equipment that has outlived its functional life and requires upgrading - can pose a number of problems for your business, from general inefficiency to actual danger. Old cooling units may be inefficient and struggle to meet modern energy efficiency requirements. In turn this may lead to overheating and could cause outages, as well as being a fire hazard. Or your servers themselves may be nearing the end of their working life and at risk of failure, with replacement parts difficult to source.

Productivity

When your legacy server room is stretched beyond its capacity, this may first manifest itself through a sluggish system with periods of downtime. While not a devastating problem in itself, outages caused by legacy server rooms working above their capacity mean that you are wasting hours of productivity while your employees wait for the system to catch up. Even minor, intermittent levels of downtime will cause day to day work to take longer and your output to be less than efficient. It’s also a warning sign that potentially more serious failures may lie ahead.

Data loss

Most organizations hold highly sensitive information on their servers, including financial transactions, employee information and confidential client records. Running a server room that is close to capacity means that your valuable data could be lost if the system overheats or breaks down. Any loss of data will damage your organization, whether directly through loss of business or indirectly through the time it takes to recover your records – if this is indeed possible.

Functioning of equipment

If your organization relies on essential equipment that needs to stay online and functional, such as patient monitoring machines in a hospital, it can be highly risky to prop it up with a legacy server room running outdated technology. Business continuity and disaster recovery professionals in hospitals and other medical environments must pay particular attention to the organization’s server room in any business continuity plan. It is vital to ensure that everything possible is done to minimise the risk of equipment failure, alongside the data loss and loss of productivity that could also occur.

Upgrading your server room to mitigate risk

Upgrading to a modern server room containing up-to-date equipment, adequate air conditioning and fitted with monitoring systems to alert you in case of critical events, will help reduce risk to your organization in several ways.

Working within capacity, you will notice the difference in speed of a new server. Workers will be able to get on with the task at hand without the obstruction of a slow system.

Aside from the much lower probability of overheating or system failure in an up to date server room, data loss is also much less of a worry. In today’s server rooms, virtualized equipment enables your data to be backed up swiftly and easily from one place to another. Virtualized equipment also has the added benefit of taking up far less space, freeing up room within your building that can be used for other purposes.

A number of back-up, monitoring and alarm systems can be installed to protect your data centre from all eventualities. Uninterruptible power supply systems enable the server room to function in the event of power failure, with minimal disruption. An environmental monitoring system will alert you to problems in the server environment. Fire detection and suppression systems will reduce the risk of fire in your server room.

If security is an issue, you can also fit your server room with measures including CCTV and access control, helping to keep your data centre / center safe from intruders.

Planning a strategy for the refit

Of course, a server room upgrade is not without its own risks and inconveniences for the company. BCM professionals will be concerned about what impact the project will have on the business and whether the process itself will incur any data loss or downtime.

However, with careful project management and skilful engineers, a server room refit can be carried out while the system remains live, minimising the effect on the organization, which should be able to carry on with business as usual. Business continuity managers may wish to liaise directly with the technical team in order to create a strategy for the project.

Conclusion

It can be easy to forget the importance of the server room while it is working away in the background of your business. However, it is vital to realise that server rooms are pivotal to business continuity robustness. Indeed they are integral to the wider BCM strategy for any organization, and investment in your server room infrastructure is a move that is always worth the outlay.

The author

Mark Allingham is a director of Comms Room Services, a leading UK specialist in the planning, design and build, refurbishment, relocation and support of data centres, server rooms and communications rooms. Marks passion for the early adoption of evolving technologies and energy efficient data centre designs has benefited multiple public sector and large private corporate organizations throughout the UK.