Managing Data Center Selection Teams Effectively

In his book Business Continuity Planning for Data Centers and Systems: A Strategic Implementation Guide, Ronald H. Bowman provides valuable insight regarding the effective management of data center selection committees:

Whether in-house or outsourced, there needs to be consensus within the steering committee on the weighting of the categories and solid documentation of properties to score assets if for no other reason than to stimulate the dialogue. (Consensus by intimidation or because "I said so" is not recommended, and discourages the creative thought that the client pays for). This should be done by people in-house or vendors outsourced who actually have done this or do this for a living more that once every five or ten years, not junior vendors playing "check the box" on some 25-page diatribe. Do not ask a lawyer to do building department subcode due diligence. Do not ask risk management personnel to negotiate utility rates or substation costs. This should not be treated as a school for preferred vendors to "help" brokers to sort out fiber optics or multiplexing at the certificate of occupancy. Do not ask a civil engineer to do ROW or telecommunications network infrastructure. Never send a telecom network engineer to sort out one-time and future utility costs for various tariff footprints. Negative first impressions with critical disciplines from the field or building departments are very hard to undo. Utility network engineers, building subcode officials, fire marshals, and telecom network managers are the heart and soul of our nation's infrastructure.

Sending a weak bench or a "B" team of vendors to gather intelligence from such a critical human infrastructure is a recipe for disaster and done more times than it is not done.

Tantamount to where the asset is placed is the day-to-day human infrastructure to support the asset and the company at the asset during a short-term or prolonged interruption. Strategic employees need to be able and willing to continue work. Special emphasis should be on in-house multitasking individuals.

If the asset is within 26 route kilometers asynchronous encryption distance to a primary asset, it may well be affected by the same act of God or human intervention. This may cause significant congestion in the railways, road, air transportation, telecommunications, but most important, the willingness of the human infrastructure to work (e.g., in some places in New Jersey, the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, Amtrak, and N.J. Transit trains are all within three miles from each other). The farther away users are from the event, the more likely they will be able and willing to recover the operations.

Encryption of data can be vaulted and saved in a timely fashion (in intervals) near the primary data center and then made recoverable remotely by a tertiary site. This can be done at the vaulting or business recovery level, either leveraging existing assets in a company's inventory or acquiring building/new facilities.

The human resource component is often overlooked when selecting primary, secondary, and tertiary sites. The devil is in the details when analyzing a site's OSP improvements, flexibility, and scalability. However, the weighting of the categories is a protracted process. Integrating the human resource component in weighted matrices for site selection can and will shorten the time of searching and bring more experience and credibility to everyone's efforts. In the data centers, the ratio of cost per square foot to employee is very high; put another way, there are few jobs for in data centers. These jobs are generally well paying, offering 30 to 40% higher-than-average compensation. It is important to have feeder schools or other technology-related companies nearby to get new employees, but the effort is hardly worth the gymnastics that users need to go through to qualify for employee tax credit benefits (often in blighted areas) from local or state governments.

Some of the criteria suggested earlier takes the "winging it" or "gut check" component out of multimarket data center site selection process. While most of the employees of the data centers come from the immediate region, key or senior officers and key multitaskers often are transferred in.

"Corporate governance" (meaning it is your job or else!) is the new fear tactic used by vendors. It is like the 1990s, when we sold "Can you imagine selling fear as a business?" It's been the biggest moneymaker since the Y2K hype. If it is not documented, if there is no process, and if there is no electronic or paper trail telling you how to get from here to there, who is accountable? Who crafted the documents? Fear, fear, fear! Vendors appear out of the blue and articulate what corporate governance is and how noncompliant the user is. The fact is, there is no universal blueprint for corporate governance and there was no silver bullet to Y2K. One size does not fit all. What are the consequences of noncompliance? What are the windows to cure? What are best practices? How can I manage at a low cost? In the United States, governance means following the laws, rules, and guidelines of the relevant industry and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

The ideas of saving time and working as close to real-time encryption of data and having able and working humans "willing to support same" are not new. Events within the last 15 years—the Bishop's Gate bomb in London, Seaport Substation outage, first World Trade Center attack, Chicago Loop flood, California fires, Texas droughts, second World Trade Center attack, Katrina, and West Coast and East Coast negative cascading of power — have given the uptime critical world some tangible results of the unexpected. The data points are in. Not many companies actually report losses accurately. Some are not able to report these numbers publicly; others are not willing to do so. Although the numbers used in this book are quoted accurately, I believe they are off or underreported by at least 100%.

From Business Continuity Planning for Data Centers and Systems: A Strategic Implementation Guide by Ronald H. Bowman. Copyright 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.