Data is the lifeblood of countless enterprises, including yours. Whether you've outgrown your in-house IT facility or you're seeking off-site solutions for a small startup, engaging a data center to store and/or manage that valuable information can be a smart move. But to make sure you're getting what you need, you'll want to ask these four questions as part of the selection process.
1. "What Range of Services Do You Provide?"
Today's data centers can do it all, or they can do just a select few things, depending on your needs and budget. If you already have an expensive rack's worth of servers, you may need nothing more than a colocation -- a remote site that stores and powers your equipment. If you don't have your own equipment or IT staff, you may need a data center that offers managed services, a setup in which the provider rents out server space and provides the necessary technical support. You even have the option of cloud-based hosting and interconnection, with all your data accessible via the Internet.
Think hard about your company's IT needs and usage, and ask prospective data centers which services they can offer to meet those issues. If your IT plans include virtual collaboration, telecommuting and mobile device access, for instance, cloud computing is a must. Managed services offer a predictable monthly fee, while cloud services often allow clients to pick and choose which features they're willing to pay for. The best solution is to go with a full-featured data center that offers every conceivable service model so you can switch from one to another at some point without also switching providers.
2. "How Disaster Proof Is the Facility?"
Some businesses engage a colocation as their one and only data center, while others just feel more comfortable knowing that they've got a duplicate center off-site in case a disaster strikes their IT facility. But if you choose a data center that hasn't put the necessary safeguards into place at its own site, then you're still vulnerable to a data catastrophe -- and a total loss of customer, financial or inventory data could be sufficient to kill some companies altogether.
Don't let your company become one of these casualties. As you shop around, ask each data center about its ability to protect precious IT equipment and data against floods, fires, and other natural (or in some cases, not-so-natural) disasters. Ask about their ability to provide "always on" connectivity and backup power to your servers, not only during brief power spikes but during more extended outages as well. (Remember to inquire about the security of the gas lines that fuel the backup generators.)
The term "disaster" can also apply to catastrophic malware infestations. If your data center is providing managed data services for your company, find out what kind of contingency plan they employ in the event of a serious virus or other issue. Does the entire facility shut down? Will you be referred to a different provider, and if so, which one?
3. "What Compliance Standards Does Your Data Center Meet?"
Do you work in an industry that is required by law to meet certain standards for software security and data confidentiality? This is certainly true of a great many industries. For instance, if you either work in the accounting industry or serve clients who do, you may need to meet an auditing standard known as SAS-70. IT systems that host or work with pharmaceutical data must comply with 21 CFR Part 11 and ISO 13485 standards, while medical offices must meet HIPAA compliance regulations. But it isn't enough that your servers or software programs meet the necessary standards -- the data center you choose must make the grade as well.
Fortunately, you'll find that many data centers have achieved certifications in multiple compliance standards. But take care to ask for documentation showing that your prospective data holds the specific certifications your industry requires. Violations of compliance laws can yield stiff, and possibly terminal, financial penalties, so don't let this detail go unchecked!
4. "What Kinds of Businesses Do You Serve?"
The wide open spaces of the Internet play host to every kind of business, in every industry, you can imagine. Some of the companies are natural targets for DNS (denial of service) attacks, malware epidemics and other hostile hacks. Adult sites are far from the only candidates -- sites representing specific ideologies and religious beliefs are even more likely to be attacked by viruses and other forms of malevolence. Popular social networks and other high-traffic sites are also popular targets. In the worst scenario, a server hosting illegal activity could put the data center completely out of business -- leaving your business's IT high and dry.
It's perfectly reasonable to ask what kinds of businesses your prospective data center caters to. If the answer raises some potential red flags with the IT chief at your company, then by all means keep looking until you arrive at a data center with relatively few problematic clients.
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