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Network Computing

Special Coverage Series


Data Center Outages Haunt IT Pros, Study Shows

Survey of data center operators indicates they're overwhelmed by outages and aren't sure of their ability to minimize their impact.

IT folks really don’t like data center outages. So much so, in fact, that 84% of data center professionals say they’d rather walk barefoot over hot coals than have their data centers go down for any length of time.

The quirky finding from the Ponemon Institute's 2013 Study on Data Center Outages underscores the angst the study found among data center professionals.

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Based on a survey of 584 data center operations personnel, the study, which was independently conducted but sponsored by Emerson Network Power, indicates that data center professionals are overwhelmed by unplanned power outages, have waning confidence in electrical utility providers, and feel ill-equipped to minimize the impact of outages.

Eight-five percent of respondents reported having experienced a loss of primary utility power in the past 24 months, and 91% of those said they’d had unplanned outages. In fact, respondents on average reported two complete data center shutdowns during the preceding two years, with an average duration of 91 minutes.

It’s likely that duration can be tied to a lack of preparation, as indicated by the measly 38% of respondents who say they have ample resources to bring the data center back up in case of an unplanned outage. That represents just a single percentage point improvement since 2010, when Ponemon conducted its first study on data center outages.

That’s not going to cut it when 71% of respondents now say their companies’ business models are dependent on the data center to generate revenue and conduct e-commerce, up from 65% in 2010.

“A lot of data centers are not living up to the letter of the law. It’s the letter A--it’s called availability,” Larry Ponemon, founder of the Ponemon Institute, said in an interview. “People have this expectation that the system is basically impervious to all sorts of things and that availability is going to be guaranteed, or close to it.”

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One additional obstacle data center staffs face in trying to meet availability expectations is that senior leadership appears to be out of touch. When divided along hierarchal lines, respondents who are at a director level or above have a rosier picture of the issues facing data centers than rank-and-file data center staff across the board. They’re more likely to have confidence in electrical utility providers, faith in the status and effectiveness of backup equipment, and belief that executive management supports efforts to minimize unplanned outages.

Reality tends not to support their comparatively upbeat outlook, as just 46% of all survey respondents agreed with the statement “unplanned outages do not happen frequently,” down from 50% in 2010. That apparent increase in frequency corresponded exactly with the drop in respondents who said they had high confidence in the reliability of their electrical utility provider: 46%, down from 50% in 2010.

There is some reason for optimism, though, as nearly three-fourths of respondents expect innovations in technologies used to monitor and manage data center infrastructures will have a positive impact on data center availability.

“If you have those tools in hand, it’s sort of like security intelligence: You may not know everything, but you can pull a string and stop things,” Ponemon said. “You can’t avoid [outages], but you can minimize them.”



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