Mark Gainer, senior director of Datacenter Operations at Hostway Corporation

As Hurricane Isaac took aim at the Gulf Coast in August, data centers up and down the seaboard, including ours in Tampa, Florida, dusted off their hurricane plans to prepare for the storm. Being accustomed to this type of natural threat, most of us were well prepared to handle whatever the storm could throw our way. 

But, coastal centers aren’t the only providers who need to be prepared for weather-related disasters. Wind, snow, ice and rain can wreak havoc on vital infrastructure in any part of the country, and these natural threats can prove particularly problematic in places where extreme weather is uncommon – such as the ice storm that crippled Atlanta in January 2011, or the severe flooding that struck the normally arid Phoenix, Ariz. area in September.

Preparing your data center and training your staff can take time, and when you’ve never experienced a natural disaster, it might feel like a low priority. But if there’s one thing Mother Nature teaches us time and time again, it’s that she’s full of surprises. Need to revisit your disaster preparedness strategy?

Here are some good places to start:

• Verify backup generators have received preventative maintenance and are in full working order.
• Top off generator fuel levels to ensure sufficient running time, and plan a refueling schedule to prevent an unexpected shutdown.
• Develop emergency fuel contracts to obtain priority reserve gasoline, if required.
• Prepare window shields to protect the building from high winds.
• Schedule staff to remain on site if necessary.
• Stockpile food, beverages and other supplies for staff who will be manning the data center – and perhaps staying overnight – during the weather emergency.
• Inform clients about how their data will be protected in the instance of a natural disaster. Keep them in the know about updated policies and procedures during quiet times, and plan to provide them with reassuring updates via email or another mode of communication during the actual event.
• Arrange for additional telephone support in remote locations to reroute calls in the event an overflow is needed.
• Despite meteorologists’ best efforts, weather remains largely unpredictable. Always err on the side of caution: Be prepared for storms to change course, stall out or speed up – and what kind of implications these changes may have for your data center.
• Verify that redundant backups to off-site locations are complete. Be vigilant, be prepared, and take the time to perform periodic disaster drills. Your future self will thank you.

About the authorMark Gainer is senior director of Datacenter Operations at Hostway Corporation, a leading provider of cloud, managed and hybrid cloud services with geographically dispersed datacenter locations in Austin, Texas, Chicago, Ill., Tampa, Fla., and Vancouver, British Columbia.