Byline: Stacy England, VP of Operations, Data Holdings 

Bio: Mr. England brings nearly 25 years of experience in the information technology, critical facilities, operations and management arena. Stacy is passionately involved in all aspects of the business, including operations of multiple data centers, compliance with SSAE 16 controls, PCI, HIPAA-Hitech and beyond. He also provides pre and post-sales direction and support, working closely with business partners and the executive team to comprehensively deliver on all aspects of operations and technical and business initiatives.

Although data centers remain a cornerstone of the virtual world, data center operators have not been immune to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to limit viral spread, many facilities have restricted on-site access to essential visitors and employees only, and a number of sites in the hardest hit areas have suspended any access to facilities outside of vital internal operations personnel. 

Meanwhile, requirements on the customer side are changing as the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally shifts the way business is being carried out. As a vast array of enterprises pivot to adopt newly virtual operations and work-from-home capabilities, data centers are facing a substantial influx of data demands and workloads. The amount of users utilizing VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) has increased as organizations look to keep sensitive business information safe even from a distance (VPN usage in the U.S. climbed 53 percent at the beginning of March when cases were starting to rise). The use of online conference platforms and other similar technologies has also grown dramatically, creating pressure on networks — many of which have not been designed to meet that volume of demand. 

In the aftermath of social distancing protocols and their subsequent impacts on IT architectures, data centers have become more important than ever as a critical element of empowering new digital business abilities. Data center demand is rising as companies adjust their strategies to work across more distributed footprints, from an array of devices and across new online platforms. So, how are data centers overcoming COVID-19 to support customers’ new normal? 

Fortunately, data centers and the teams that run them are built to be very well prepared for unforeseen circumstances as they are held to extremely high uptime standards on a day-to-day basis. As a result, many operators have business continuity plans in place that allow them to remain agile. Not only are data centers always planning for normal operations and standard growth, but they’re always looking for ways to patch any vulnerabilities and remain flexible to overcome any surprises. That being said, there are still ways that data centers are growing and changing to rise to this extraordinary occasion. 

Preventing disruption for customers’ mission-critical business functions now largely relies on remote hands capabilities, allowing tenants to delegate management and maintenance tasks to the operator’s IT technicians, but some operators are looking to preserve as much normalcy as possible. To enable customers to stay in touch with their IT as much as possible, Data Holdings is still allowing some on-site visits. However, facility access is dependent on a questionnaire, which allows customers to update the Data Holdings team about their recent travel or contact history. Still, all non-essential visits to the site have been suspended during this time, and much of the critical remote hands efforts are being taken care of by a limited on-site Data Holdings staff. Regardless of the circumstances, catering to tenant data needs around the clock is key to maintaining the trust and peace of mind that becomes invaluable in these uncertain times. To underscore this trust, Data Holdings has offered discounts to customers on these remote hands services. 

Operators across the market are also increasing their circuit size, expanding their available bandwidth and adding IP configurations to comfortably cater to the growth in customer demands. Hardware like firewalls, ASAs (Adaptive Security Appliances), VPN appliances and additional storage are being added as well. 

This is truly an unprecedented event, and customers could not have fully predicted or planned for this type of event. While it’s impossible to plan for every circumstance, it is part of a data center operator’s job to anticipate disruption, prepare solutions and serve as a partner that protects tenants against events like these. As the foundation for digital capabilities, it is crucial that data centers hold strong, remain available and fortify their service offering to meet new and evolving needs in the face of this pandemic. This way, enterprises that have or need strong remote access options, network expansion capabilities, disaster recovery plans and other solutions for their own continued operations have a trusted base to build on. As we all move forward together, businesses and data center operators alike will be better prepared with more refined, robust and resilient business continuity plans. 

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