Ben Hatton Sensory Technologies: A data center case study

Sensory Technologies case study

Case study on Sensory Technologies, a great Data Cave client

In addition to providing companies with a higher level of security and availability for their data and equipment, for many we are also able to contribute to their overall growth, through our colocation services. This has been the case with Sensory Technologies, an Indianapolis-based audio-visual solutions provider that is one of our many great clients. Their explosive growth made it necessary for them to identify a data center provider with the capacity, redundancy, and connectivity to ensure a much higher level of scalability than their original location.

We have created a new case study that takes a look into their data center story. In the study you will learn more about this great company, including:

  • The biggest objectives that drove their data center decision-making.
  • The key reasons for their partnership with Data Cave for their colocation needs.
  • Improvements to their data center environment and overall scalability, as well as their future growth plans.

We are excited to share their story with you, and we hope you get a lot out of it! To download the whitepaper, just click the link below to be taken to the download page:

Sensory Technologies Case Study – Download page

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Ben Hatton A lesson in data center communication

Server room

During a downtime event, a data center’s customer communication procedures are just as important as their ability to fix the issue itself.

I recently read a story from Data Center Knowledge that caught my attention, and not necessarily in a good way. The article was essentially a data center horror story, chronicling an ordeal that no data center (and certainly no data center customer) ever wants to experience. You can check out the story here; I won’t make mention of who the data center in question was, but I do want to look at the situation itself, and what lessons can be learned from it.

The outage, and how it was communicated

In mid-March, an outage occurred while the data center was performing scheduled maintenance. While a minimal level of downtime can sometimes be expected during a scheduled maintenance period, it quickly became clear that this downtime was very much out of the ordinary because it lasted for a very long time. In fact, it was to the point that many of their colocation customers reported downtime of up to 24 hours.

While this was obviously a colossal problem in itself, it was only half of the battle for this data center. The other half was in how it communicated to its clients. Many of its customers reported that they were not kept up to date in any way on the status of the work to correct the issue, with several lashing out on social media. While the data center did provide some updates from time to time, there was very little detailed communication done on a consistent basis. This certainly didn’t do anything to help the situation.

My reaction

I think for me, the craziest part about this whole story was the lack of proper communication on the part of the data center during this event. If I was a customer, I would want to be kept in the loop on work being done as much as possible, even if what’s being communicated to me isn’t always positive (ie. “We’re still working on it, we’ll have another update soon, etc.”). It’s no different than if your power or cable went out, where you would want to hear that it is being worked on, and when you could expect the issue to be resolved. And the more time that goes by without receiving any updates, the more uneasy we all become.

Data center communication lessons from this story

The goal for any data center is for downtime to never occur in the first place, but in the event that it does, or in the event that there is a planned downtime event for maintenance (as this apparently was), the level of communication is one of the most important things the data center must be able to handle well. Here are a few ways that a situation like this could have been better handled from a communication standpoint:

  • Communicate with customers frequently, as in at least once per hour. This was a major area that was lacking in this circumstance, and if updates had been communicated on a consistent basis, the tension level could have been hugely reduced. Even if there was nothing new to report on the work being done, a simple “We’re still working on it, we’ll be in touch again in xx minutes” would have been tremendous as well.
  • Be as transparent as you can be, providing as many details on the work being done as possible. Colocation customers always need to be well-informed, especially when there is an outage.
  • Reach your customers where they are, and don’t rely on just a single medium to get the message out. This means having a plan in place that involves communicating through multiple channels such as email, SMS, social media, etc.

At its worst, this situation was a source of a lot of pain for this data center’s colocation clients. At its best though, I feel that it can be a good case study of how communication should and shouldn’t be handled during a crisis. Our communications policy at Data Cave involves the use of multiple channels (email, SMS, our online ticketing system, and phone) to communicate things like maintenance notifications, updates on work being completed, and updates on work being done by upstream providers. Keeping our clients well-informed of any work being done either by us or connectivity providers is a very big deal to us.

What are your thoughts about this story? Are there any thoughts or lessons that you took away from it? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear them!

 

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Ben Hatton The importance of the data center SLA

At Data Cave we, like many other data centers, promise a maximum level of uptime for our colocation clients, and we deliver on this promise through our high level of redundant features throughout our facility. But when it comes to formally establishing that promise to our clients on paper, that is where our service level agreement (SLA) comes in. An SLA is the key component of a data center contract that serves 3 main purposes:Data Center SLA

  1. Establishes the specific levels of availability that are guaranteed by the data center.
  2. Sets the communication protocol for any issues or uptime-impacting events that may arise.
  3. Lays out the policies and procedures revolving around planned maintenance events by the data center (timing of such events, the communication procedures, etc.)

These agreements typically contain numerous components that all revolve around meeting these key objectives. The overall content of the SLA will vary somewhat between data centers (depending on their own promised uptime levels and procedures), but a well-thought through SLA will always address those objectives in a very detailed and specific manner.

Why having an SLA matters

The SLA is an integral part of any colocation contract, and one should always be discussed and agreed upon when entering into an agreement with a data center. Apart from meeting the primary objectives that I outlined above, an SLA brings a tremendous deal of value to you as well, providing these long-term benefits:

  1. It will make it abundantly clear exactly what the data center will be providing in terms of system uptime. A service level agreement takes the uptime promise beyond the initial sales pitch, putting in writing exactly what you can expect.
  2. Since it is a contract, it will hold the data center accountable to keeping its uptime and availability promises.
  3. This agreement will provide more long-term peace of mind, as it means the data center provider will be much more likely to stand by their services, and deliver on their promises on a consistent basis.

Our service level agreement for colocation clients at Data Cave covers a very wide range of areas pertaining to our uptime maintenance and communication policies, and it meets all of these primary objectives for our clients as well as us. Our aim is to truly deliver on our maximum uptime promise to our clients, and our SLA is a major way that we keep both ourselves accountable to our promise, and our clients assured.

To learn more about what goes into a data center SLA and why they are so relevant, I encourage you to reach out and contact us.

 

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Ben Hatton Managing (and backing up) your unstructured data

Paper overflow

Unstructured data is kind of like this, but in digital form. (Image courtesy of Flickr user zoetnet)

A term that is often used within the data backup industry is ‘unstructured data,’ which refers to any type of data that doesn’t fit into a formal structure, like data you would typically find in a database.

Just a few types of unstructured data include:

  • Digital files of any kind, such as Word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.
  • Emails
  • Website content

More of your data is unstructured than you think

Unstructured data like this can be more difficult to fully quantify than structured data that you’ll find in databases, but it deserves all the attention it gets. This is because unstructured data accounts for upwards of 80% of all the data that is generated and used by organizations, according to estimates from research firm Gartner. This percentage has been shown to be steadily increasing year over year, as well.

This can present a challenge when you’re trying to maintain a level of control over all of the data that your business generates, as well as a challenge for your data backup strategy. Here are a few basic steps that can help you begin to more effectively manage this data, as well as identify how you can backup each different type.

1. Determine what you have

The 3 examples I listed above no doubt apply to your business (we all have email, right?), but these are just a few straightforward sources of unstructured data; there are many, many more out there. It is important for you to take the time to identify what that data looks like for your own business, and where it resides.

2. What’s the business impact?

Once you’ve identified what your unstructured data looks like, you will want to analyze the overall business impact of that data. In other words, what would be the business impact of losing some of that data? If we stick with those same examples of files, email, and web content, I’m guessing that a major loss in any of those 3 areas would have a pretty substantial impact on your day to day operations. You should take the time to determine the level of impact, and ultimately the level of importance, for each area of unstructured data that your business uses.

3. How do I backup the unstructured data?

By its very nature, unstructured data isn’t always as straightforward to backup as data you will find in a database, but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. Anything can be backed up, and each source of your unstructured data is no different. Let’s take one last look at the 3 examples, and some basic backup methods for each one:

  1. Digital files: This type of data can easily be backed up to a file server that is maintained on or offsite, as well as backed up via a cloud service.
  2. Emails: Most email clients allow you to backup all of your emails into a retrievable file format on a routine basis (daily/weekly/on the fly/etc.). These files can also be backed up to any offsite or on premise location.
  3. Website content: The files that make up your website reside on a web server somewhere, and it is wise to enable these files to be routinely backed up to a secondary location as well (creating a full backup copy of your website). Most web hosts allow for this backup function, allowing you to have your site backed up at regular intervals.

Look at what else is out there

These are just a few rudimentary examples of unstructured data, and I’m sure that you can think of many others as well! As this type of data continues to grow, it will become more and more important to gain a firm understanding of where your unstructured data lies, and identify exactly how you will go about backing up that data regularly.

When it comes to backing up your data, Data Cave offers an Offsite Backup service that could help play a role in your overall data backup efforts. I encourage you to reach out and contact us if you’d like more information!

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Ben Hatton World Backup Day 2015

Today is World Backup Day! If you aren’t familiar, this is an annual initiative that promotes the World Backup Day 2015 importance of regularly backing up all of your data. It may not be a recognized holiday, but it’s still a day you should celebrate. And by celebrate, I mean back up your data if you aren’t already.

Here are some interesting facts about data and backup that you may not know:

  • Every day the world creates 2.5 million terabytes of data. In fact, 90% of all of the world’s current data has been created in just the past 2 years.
  • 30% of people have never backed up their personal data before. Backup is an area that some businesses can also struggle with.
  • 20% of all small businesses will be hacked over the course of a year.
  • 1 in 10 computers are infected with a virus each month.

These points should be a huge motivation for being intentional about backing up your data on a regular basis. Whether you back your data up to a separate hard drive or server (preferably at a different location), to a cloud storage solution, or both, I encourage you to use today as a reminder and opportunity to back up your documents, photos, and everything else that matters to you.

Additional resources

To learn more about why a good backup strategy is so important, and some of the implications of not backing up regularly, here are a few previous posts we have written on the subject:

The State of Data Backup in 2015

How effective is your data backup?

Changing your mindset about the Cloud

Take the pledge and start backing up your data today!

 

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