Over the years, data center and mission-critical operators have planned for the many risks that can challenge a 7×24 operation. During a crisis, the continuity of these centers is more important than ever. The novel coronavirus offers an example of an unseen, yet potentially crippling risk. Now, those who are managing their operations through such a situation are facing challenges that they did not expect.
Industry professionals and data center veterans offer several advisories and recommendations to help meet these challenges. Owners should take special considerations for the four following elements: business continuity, facility safety, critical operations personnel, and operations and maintenance. To fully prepare, owners should draft a crisis management plan that includes tailored responses to the following questions and potential challenges.
Does your business have provisions in their contingency management plan for a pandemic? This plan should consider situations where staff cannot enter or leave the site.
How will internal and external communications be impacted? Company and regulatory policies should include alternative methods to overcome these challenges.
How will interruptions in resources and materials impact operations? In addition to resources vital to business operations, this also includes sanitation supplies.
Be prepared to step up housekeeping measures to provide a safe working environment for staff. This also includes signage regarding health and hygiene applications as well as increased cleaning protocols.
Consider site access restrictions, including limited access and security checkpoints for qualified visitors.
Critical Operations Personnel
Public health crises where social distancing is important will lead to the evaluation of on-site versus remote working. Before the need for remote working is required, stress test the virtual private network’s (VPN) access to a building management system (BMS).
How can operating staff be reduced while maintaining essential business operations? A plan for alternative staffing due to reductions should be created as a response to multiple risk levels, ranging from staff working remotely, to potentially high numbers of staff falling ill.
When personnel are working remotely, processes and procedures should be current and available. There should be both local and remote access to SOPs and MOPs.
Operations and Maintenance
Has planning been considered for essential maintenance activities?
Are all maintenance activities organized by priority? Create a list going from low priority (non-essential, infrared scanning) to high (essential, air filter changes).
Are all staff members familiar with the company disaster recovery plan? Create a schedule to regularly review plans, procedures and policies and update if required to meet challenges.
Are engine generator fuel tanks topped off? Calculate the fuel supply in terms of run time to see how long generators can operate.
Review equipment needs and how crises could impact these. Has forecasting and preparations been addressed for disruptions in equipment, parts and components? What if there was the loss of a major piece of equipment? How will the process for service and receiving new and replacement parts be impacted?
Are there provisions in place for the needed involvement of off-site operations support personnel? Stringent rules should be considered for the engagement of vendors, contractors and consultants.
COVID-19 will not be the only risk to have an impact on the global economy. However, the data center industry can learn from this experience and provide planning and resources to support business operations against a future crisis.
For further information on this important subject, download Uptime Institute Intelligence Report 37: COVID-19: Minimizing Critical Facility Risk.