Seven tips for running a data centre business during COVID-19

Seven tips for running a data centre business during COVID-19

COVID-19, otherwise known as Coronavirus, is a pandemic that has caused disruption on a global scale. Steve Bowes-Phipps, DCA Advisory Board Member and Senior Data Centre Consultant, PTS Consulting, offers his advice on how to limit this disruption and run a data centre business successfully during these challenging times.

As Senior Data Centre Consultant for PTS, Bowes-Phipps sits on the Advisory Board of The DCA (UK Data Centre Trade Association) and as Chair on the DCA Special Interest Group for Workforce Development and Capability.

Bowes-Phipps discusses seven things you could be doing as a data provider or end-user that would perhaps help you in some way during the pandemic.

1) Maintaining availability

During this pandemic, most data centres will be seeing a huge upturn in traffic and demand due to a lot of home working, online courses and streaming services etc., so the number one thing I see repeatedly around data centre availability, or lack of it, is human error. If you want to reduce human error then minimise change; change in a data centre can be devastating if it’s not managed appropriately and correctly, and even if it is, there’s still the opportunity for somebody to make a mistake or to put something in place that impacts a production environment which will take time to rectify. So, minimise change and possibly insert a change freeze for this particular period.

2) Understand your business

There is a well tried and tested exercise called ‘Operational Risk Assessment’ where the framework initially looks at understanding what it is you need to provide as a business, then what you have in place operationally to assist you in delivering this, where the gaps might be around some of the controls and measures you would use to double-check processes are being followed and finally, having strategies and tactics in place to eliminate or mitigate any of the risks that have derived from this exercise. The exercise can be tremendously informative and enlightening and is really recommended as it can make a big difference to the way your organisation can cope with situations such as these.

3) Maintaining a safe and healthy working environment

During the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly in commercial data centres they tend to have concentrated touchpoints such as kitchenettes, which unfortunately are where the virus could easily be passed on from one person to another. You may want to consider closing these communal areas down at this particular time. There’ll unavoidably be an impact on people so communication is key – explain why you are doing this and try to advise how long this restriction might be in place for. Washing hands and distancing one’s self from others is also a sensible move. It is important to prepare those visiting your site so they bring their own essentials if catering or vending machines are no longer in use for example. Whatever it is you do to keep customers and staff informed is a very prudent measure.

4) Reviewing your disaster recovery plans

You may or may not have those kinds of plans in place for your own organisation, but the important thing, particularly as a provider of services, is to talk to all your vendors and third parties who are providing support for you as you need to understand the challenges they may be experiencing. You may question whether they have a DR plan in place and if they understand the impact it could have on your business due to a lack of resources on the services they deliver to you. Whether it’s the cleaning company, security or plant maintenance in the data centre, it is vital that you understand what they’re doing to maintain the services they provide to you.

5) Communications

Communication with clients and customers is vital – it is crucial for them to understand what it is you are doing. Initially, you may wish to do this via email but sometimes clients prefer a phone call. At the very least, you should consider putting up a status page on your customer portal or website and keep it regularly updated in light of COVID-19 activity.

6) Staff and people

If your job usually involves meeting people, visiting customers and/or sites and you are no longer able to do so, now is the time to complete all of the tasks you previously put off. Take this opportunity to get everything up-to-date, whether this is working on a project business plan or organising proactive activities to increase brand awareness which could include preparing industry insight, writing articles, blogs and whitepapers or even improving your skills by taking online training courses. It is understandable that lots of plans are currently on hold but there will inevitably come a point where demand will suddenly increase, so the better prepared you are means you are more likely to benefit.

7) Only make people redundant as a very last resort

My final point is a plea not to fire or make people redundant until you absolutely must and until you have seriously investigated all other options. Be sure to investigate what government help there might be, talk to suppliers about deferring payments or come to an agreement about a repayment plan. Whatever it is you do, try and keep those people employed as long as you can. There are several good reasons for this: it shows good leadership within the industry; that you value and care about your staff; you are willing to invest in them long term despite challenges such as these.

As previously mentioned, it is likely there will be a huge amount of work presenting itself further down the line. In my role as Chair, I am constantly meeting with colleagues and peers to talk about the difficulty of getting people on board with the right kind of skills. You must question whether you want to add to the problem by getting rid of all those people with great knowledge of your organisation. Of course, you don’t, because when your business improves and starts picking up again you want to be there taking advantage and hit the ground running with all the resources you need when that starting gun is fired. So, hold onto people for as long as you can, get whatever grants you can or loan deferrals there are available because this will subside and you need those people who know what you want to increase your business and succeed.

I hope that you, your family, colleagues and business remain healthy.

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