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Web Hosting Data Center Hurricane Preparedness

By: Derek Vaughan
Cheap Hosting Directory
Published: June 15 2005

The first hurricane of the season is bearing down on the southeastern United States. The scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center (CPC), Hurricane Research Division (HRD), and National Hurricane Center (NHC) are predicting a 70 percentchance of an above-normal 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. The outlook calls for 12-15 tropical storms, with 7-9 becoming hurricanes, and 3-5 of these becoming major hurricanes. This prediction reflects a very likely continuation of above-normal activity that began in 1995.

If you own or operate a web hosting data center in the path of a potential hurricane, Cheap Hosting Directory prepared several tips to help you stay in operation during such an event.

1. Prepare for a Hurricane Ahead of Time - Don’t wait until the last minute to check your emergency data center operations. An obvious check includes your backup generator. You should make certain that you have the maximum complement of fuel necessary to run for the maximum duration you expect power to be down. You should absolutely test run your generator for several minutes and monitor its stability well in advance of any expected emergency. Make sure you have a written chain of command and a communication plan in place as well.

2. Track the Path of the Hurricane Carefully - A reliable source of hurricane tracking is http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/index.shtml. This is the National Weather Service Tropical Prediction Center. There are tropical storm forecasts and advisories – as well as links to expected storm paths and live radar maps.

3. Have Your Emergency Crew in Place Well Ahead of the Storm - Designate your emergency response team and get them in your data center at least 1 full day before the storm is expected to hit. Waiting too long to get the team in place can lead to team members being cut off from your location due to the weather – winds and rain can down power lines and trees, or flood major thoroughfares making transportation impossible.

4. Stock up on Food, Toiletries, and First Aid Supplies - Your emergency team may have to be in place for several days during a major storm. They will most likely be unable to drive out to the store to pick up sundries during the storm. They may also dash into the data center facility at the last minute – forgetting essential toiletries (toothbrush, soap, etc.). Providing these items can free your team up to worry about bigger problems - like keeping the servers running.

5. Give Your Emergency Team Something to Do While They Wait - Gaming consoles, DVD's, magazines, board games, or hourly monitoring tasks can all be invaluable to keep your team members occupied during the long hours of waiting and watching. According to experts who have been through multiple hurricane events - the most important thing is too insure that your team has a comfortable place to sleep.

6. Rehearse Your Worst Case Backup Scenario - Assume that the absolute worst-case thing happens. Complete, utter catastrophe. Then rehearse how you will restore service in a systematic way. This will include completely implementing your backup solution - from start to finish.

7. Keep Your Customer Base Informed of Your Challenges - Make certain that you share your challenges with your customer base proactively. Post regular updates on both the storm and your network operations status in a commonly checked customer area (such as in your control panel). This will serve to assure customers that you are doing everything possible to protect their interests. It will also make any down time easier to manage - as customers could ''see it coming'' – rather than being blindsided by it.

Mr. Jim Collins, President of Affinity Internet, is no stranger to data center hurricane preparedness. During the 2004 hurricane season, the company's Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Florida data centers both survived unscathed from near direct hits by four major hurricanes in the span of 4 months.

Mr. Collins had this to say regarding web hosting data centers, hurricanes, and customer uptime: ''Customers rightfully expect their service provider to take their online presence as seriously as they do, and for Affinity, that translates into a detailed and practiced disaster preparedness plan. Our focus on providing a superb customer experience motivates us to go the extra mile. While I wouldn’t want to go through another year like 2004, I sleep a little easier knowing that we could handle it because of the quality and dedication of our team, and our extensive planning and preparation.''

Mr. Collins adds a few extra points to get your operation ready for a hurricane.

Do a 'dry' run. Pick a weekend outside of the disaster season and do a dry run to make sure you really have all you’re going to need. The smallest details can render the most carefully thought out plans worthless. The last thing you want in the middle of a storm is someone running out for toilet paper because the building maintenance service locks the supply closet.

Build a comprehensive communication plan that includes all available media. You never really know what’s going to go down. Make sure you have a communication plan that covers wireless, wireline and Internet media - and make sure you have someone outside of the impacted area that is tracking and communicating for the company. It is not at all unusual to have a clearer picture of what's going on from a thousand miles away than right in the middle of the storm.

Remember that there are lives at stake. The team that commits to being in the facility during the storm can be literally putting their lives on the line for your business. Make sure that emergency services know they are there. Making sure that you have covered the details is even more meaningful when it comes to forcing team members to fill out checklists including prescription medicines, dietary needs, etc. You have to anticipate that any facility will be isolated. In some cases, Emergency Services can't get through. Never ever take this lightly.''

Early and diligent preparation, solid communication with both internal and external customers, a cool head and a great emergency plan and team are the tickets to successfully surviving a major hurricane event. Here's hoping that any major storms steer clear of your operations and web hosting data center.

About Derek Vaughan

Derek Vaughan has been actively marketing on the Internet since 1995. His extensive online marketing experience includes the online direct marketing of books for $300 million per year NYSE traded book publisher Thomas Nelson. Mr. Vaughan has also marketed products online at the Walt Disney Company as the online marketing manager for the ESPNstore.com. Mr. Vaughan was also the marketing manager for the launch of the NASCAR Online Store.

In web hosting, Mr. Vaughan served for 3 years as Senior Director of Marketing for the Affinity Internet, Inc. family of companies. Most recently Mr. Vaughan has been consulting with Cheap Hosting Directory. Mr. Vaughan holds degrees from both the Indiana University School of Music and Purdue University. He has also received a Master of Business Administration degree from the Owen School at Vanderbilt University.

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