Reliability & Redundancy: Understanding the High Availability Data Center

How does a data center ensure reliable power? What level of redundancy is necessary for a high availability data center? These are two critical issues that weigh on the minds of IT leaders. Why? Because they understand uninterrupted power is the lifeblood of their operation. And, they know the devastating effects an unplanned outage can have on their organization’s well-being.

Downtime can result from a power outage, equipment failure, natural disaster, human error, fire, flood, or a wide range of other causes. As an IT leader, your goal is to provide continuous operation of your data center under all circumstances. Many factors contribute to data center reliability. People, processes and equipment all play a huge role in increasing availability.

Data center managers address reliability by implementing many measures, such as hiring and training the right staff members and developing, implementing and testing proven procedures. They also make sure the data center infrastructure has built-in redundancy and reliability – for power, fire detection, moisture detection, lightning protection, and sophisticated monitoring systems generator and UPS backup systems, fire detection and suppression systems, moisture detection systems, lightning protection and sophisticated monitoring systems. This article will focus on the following three systems areas for improving reliability.

  1. Redundant Systems and Components – Providing redundant systems and components can help eliminate single points of failure within the IT infrastructure. However, each data center manager must determine the appropriate level of redundancy for their operation. A thorough analysis is needed to arrive at an effective redundancy strategy.

Certainly, incorporating redundancy into a data center operation is critical. However, achieving 100% redundancy comes with a hefty price tag. And, it’s important to note that high levels of redundancy don’t always mean a system is more reliable. Although this point may seem counter-intuitive, increasing component redundancy creates a much more complex infrastructure. As complexity increases, management of the infrastructure becomes more challenging. Working with data center experts can help you arrive at the right redundancy strategy for your organization.

  1. Backup Systems – Backup systems include the proper configuration of generator units and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. In a generation system, every available generator unit can be programmed to start automatically during a loss of utility power. As long as sufficient fuel is available, the generators power the entire load of the data center until the utility power source is restored.

When regular power is restored, the generators transfer the load back to the utility and stop operating. The transition to and from the back-up generator power is seamless when configured properly. The most effective designs will incorporate the necessary generators to supply power, as well as backup generators should any one unit fail.

Redundancy should also be built into the UPS system so one failing module will not affect the overall capacity of the system. Both generator and UPS systems can be configured for automatic and manual transfer of power. Automatic transfer is critical during unexpected outages. Manual transfers are used for scheduled maintenance and testing of data center equipment and procedures without interring with normal operations.

  1. Detection and Monitoring Systems – Although cyber-attacks get the bulk of publicity, environmental factors can be equally devastating to IT equipment and data center facilities. To minimize the impact of downtime, detection systems must be integrated within a data center operation. These systems can alert you to a problem before it becomes a crippling event.

Detection and monitoring systems will monitor environmental factors such as:

  • Temperature – Sensors will measure the heat being generated by equipment and the air conditioning systems intake and discharge.
  • Humidity and Moisture – Sensors ensure high moisture levels won’t corrode electronic components and low levels won’t cause static electricity. They also monitor for leaks inside cooling equipment, leaks in pipes and flooding from a disaster.
  • Airflow – Sensors make sure air is properly flowing through racks and to/from the air conditioning system.
  • Voltage – Sensors detect the presence or absence of line voltage.
  • Power – Monitoring systems measure current coming into the facility and determine when electrical failures occur. 
  • Smoke – In addition to advising data center personnel of a potential fire, smoke alarms may also be configured to report directly to the local fire department.
  • Video Surveillance – Real-time surveillance of data center activities, especially in sensitive areas, provide data center managers with a first-hand look of what’s going on within the facility, including who’s entering and exiting.

To meet an organization’s requirements and avoid costly consequences, data centers must deliver continuous uptime. Any unplanned amount of downtime, even for just a few minutes, can result in dire consequences. Installing the best equipment available on the market cannot guarantee business continuity. A high-availability, reliable data center, requires redundant designs, the right configuration of backup systems, and advanced monitoring systems.

FairPoint Communications’ data centers provide strictly controlled environments with essential power, cooling, connectivity and physical security features. Organizations select FairPoint for a number of reasons, including the company’s superior network and access to high-speed services, local support, its broad portfolio of services, proven expertise and competitive pricing. For more information on data center colocation services, contact us today.

Chris is the former Vice President of Product Management at FairPoint Communications, a leading provider of advanced communications technology in northern New England and 14 other states across the U.S.