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Whether for disaster recovery or as part of a technology outsource, many firms are considering moving servers and related infrastructure to a third-party hosting provider. A growing number of IT firms offer hosting services. Some providers, seeking a low cost of entry, locate your equipment in their offices. Often a multi-tenant building or even sometimes an old house, these locations are typically fed from residential-class power and telephone circuits off the proverbial pole by the curb. It’s important to understand how these solutions compare to a world-class data center where redundancy and security features combine to ensure high availability access to your firm’s data and applications. Data centers are the best insurance for protecting your data. These facilities offer essential features for data security, redundancy, backup and disaster recovery that businesses of all sizes need. Housing your firm’s data at a data center may not seem like an affordable option, but in reality, the cost is spread over many clients, and therefore, is typically only a small part of the hosting provider’s overall fee. Data centers offer a variety of services to meet the needs of each of their “tenants.” However, there are a number of key areas that need to be carefully evaluated to ensure your IT provider is hosting your firm’s critical data in the proper facility. These include power redundancy and climate control, physical security, telecommunications, and redundant server and infrastructure design. These are all important elements of a co-location center that need to be considered. World-class data centers offer many features to protect data from power outages. The facility you select should be fed from multiple power grids to ensure that if one fails there is an automatic transfer to a second. In the event that there is simultaneous loss of both power grids, the data center should also have battery backup with enough capacity to allow for uninterrupted operation while other back-up systems come online. Since we all know that battery backups can only be available for hours, not days, these facilities use indefinite power generation from multiple on-site diesel generators. Remember, there are many types of generators; some come from the home improvement store. Look for the diesel variety; they should be about the size of a tractor-trailer. The temperature of the facility is also important. “Although computer equipment has gotten smaller, it still generates significant heat,” explained Steve Hatch, vice president of operations at Network Alternatives Inc. (NAI). “Since servers cannot operate above normal temperature levels, data centers must have redundant HVAC cooling systems to ensure system availability if the primary cooling system fails. The HVAC units also need to continue running in the event of power outages. Look for generators sized to run not only the servers, but the redundant cooling systems as well.” These days, security is on the forefront of everyone’s minds, and your IT service provider has probably taken some precautions. But, there is more to physical security than the guard at the front desk. “Financial institutions and e-commerce sites are the typical types of companies that utilize world-class data centers,” said Hatch. “Knowing that these businesses are relying on co-location facilities to protect their data validates the level of security precautions taken in these world-class data centers.” Hatch explains that there is a full range of security features provided by the world-class data center NAI uses in Philadelphia – including multi-layered security control procedures; dual stage, fully zoned fire suppression systems; 24-7 guarded building access; 24-7 hallway and elevator video surveillance and biometric scanners for controlled access to the site. If your data is hosted off-site, access is essential. Data centers offer fully redundant telecommunications connectivity. By having fiber ring connections to multiple providers, there is no single point of failure. That’s something you just can’t get off a telephone pole. If your IT service provider hosts your servers from their office, most likely they are connected to one copper telecommunications line. If it goes down, so do you. Also, look for Internet access from multiple tier-one providers with peering arrangements within the facility. NAI’s director of Technical Services, Frank Mariello, explained the importance of the data center’s infrastructure design very clearly. “With the complexity of computer environments today, there are numerous factors that can cause a system to fail,” explained Mariello. “The best place for your data to be stored is a facility designed and built specifically for hosting computer networks. Offices are designed for people to work in – not for the redundant operation of computer equipment.” By having redundant and clustered servers, there is no single point of failure. User sessions are spread across multiple servers, where only one user, on average, would be affected if there were a hardware failure. “Without multiple connections to power grids, redundant telecommunications circuits, additional power generation, redundant cooling systems and top-level security, you may be putting your firm’s data at risk,” added Mariello. “Co-location makes the data center approach much more affordable to all organizations,” explained Hatch. “The affordability of this option far outweighs the risk of lost or stolen data.” Ensure yourself a good night’s sleep and make sure your data is tucked away in a secure facility with the proper infrastructure to enable easy access and complete protection of your firm’s intellectual property. EDWARD J. GRUBB is president and cofounder of Network Alternatives Inc. (NAI).He has more than 20 years of experience in lawoffice computing. NAI is a nationally recognizedprovider of full-service, cost-effective and reliable technology solutions for law firms and other professional services organizations. NAI provides solutions that are distinctively tailored to meet its clients’ needs and include: application hosting, document management, file management, consulting, network integration and customer support. Contact Grubb at [email protected].

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