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With recent outages, big data service providers take hits

Patrick Thibodeau | Aug. 18, 2009
Are recession-induced cutbacks killing reliability?

If outages are becoming more frequent, the economy may be at fault. The Association for Computer Operations Management (AFCOM), reported in December that half of all data centers it surveyed were planning cuts, and nearly 12% of the survey respondents said they believed service disruptions would increase.

Another warning sign comes from Uptime Institute data. The Santa Fe, N.M.-based data center engineering and consulting firm issues what it calls Flash Reports to its members when it sees a data center experiencing failures that could occur at other sites with the same kind of hardware. That hardware includes circuit breakers, batteries and UPS systems.

In all of 2008, Uptime sent out six Flash Reports, according to Ken Brill, Uptime's executive director. So far this year, it has sent out 17 reports detailing equipment problems and it has four others pending. Brill isn't sure what's causing the uptick, but he believes it's significant.

The drive for energy efficiency may be prompting data centers to cut back on redundant equipment and run their systems harder, exposing equipment flaws that may have been there all along, said Brill. Cutbacks are another possibility. "We're not doing the maintenance we should be doing, and when you don't do maintenance, you increase the probability of catastrophic failure."

Ted Maulucci, CIO at real estate developer Tridel Corp. in Toronto, doesn't see a systemic problem, even though he had to deal with an outage by a data center provider. He believes fiber-based connectivity is improving performance and stability. "Five years ago, it was not uncommon to experience the odd interruption, whereas today it has been pretty rock solid, other than the major failure that happened," he said.

Neal Puff, the CIO of the Yuma County, Ariz., government, moved ERP systems that had been hosted by an Internet-connected service back in-house last year. His goal: to improve reliability and performance. Puff estimated the county will save $1 million over five years by running the systems itself. Even so, he said he believes that "a well-run hosted solution with reliable connections will perform well and be as reliable as any well-run in-house system."

Leslie Daigle, the chief Internet technology officer of the Internet Society, said there have always been significant issues and outages online. Indeed, there was concern in the mid to late 1990s that congestion would bring the Internet to its knees. But that never happened. "The Internet is in a state of constant evolution, and that really does provide its overall resilience," she said.

There is more investment than ever in reliability and redundancy, "and for the most part it shows," said Jose Nazario, manager of security research at Arbor Networks Inc. in Chelmsford, Mass. "Given the loads that the network takes, its highly dynamic structure day to day and the fragility of its components, it's quite stable -- maybe not yet dial-tone reliable, but pretty good."


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