Data Center Risk Assessment Can Save Thousands of Dollars

One of the most important lessons I learnt when managing data centres for Databanks Systems throughout New Zealand was the importance of carrying out risk assessments.  As a team of managers, we soon learnt that it is better to identify a risk and deal with it as early as possible, rather than let it remain and be the potential cause of a disaster. 

Individually risks may not present too much of a problem, but when combined with numerous other risk factors or events they can very quickly become a major issue.  It has become apparent to me throughout my career as a data centre manager and especially now as Senior BCP consultant that significant disasters are more often than not caused by a series of manageable events, that when combined create a “disaster”. A good example of this was during the recent flooding in my home town of Dunedin. 

The Event:

• In June 2015, there was the heaviest rain fall in 91 years
• Many streams and gullies feed into the South Dunedin basin from the hill suburbs
• Water flowed into a low lying area – less than 1 metre above sea level and started to pond
• Heavy flooding caused major problems such as road closures, power failures and the evacuation of a rest-home.

Other contributing factors

• The storm water infrastructure was already under stress from the usual winter rainfall it was designed to deal with
• Added to this was the fact that many of the drainage mud traps were full of mud and debris
• The screens in the pumping station designed to clear the water away filled with debris and could not clear the water
• The sea level in the area was above normal and so the natural drainage was not as fast as it could be
• Many of the houses in the area are now built on concrete slabs, which are only a few centimetres above ground level. 
• There was an increased run off of water from the surrounding hill suburbs.
• In the area of South Dunedin there has been an intensification of housing creating more roofs, drives and hard surfaces for the water to run off

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but this scenario looks as if it were a flooding disaster just waiting to happen and unfortunately these types of floods will likely happen more often with the added effects of climate change and other extreme weather events.

What happened in South Dunedin, was of particular interest to me as the data centre I used to manage was very close to the area that was flooded.  This is the second time in my life that I have had a data centre nearly flooded.  The first was in 1984 flooding of Invercargill city.

As a Manager of high importance data centres, I learnt very quickly the importance of carrying out very regular risk assessments.  For matters such as flooding, we would check the local mud traps and drains to see if they were clear, check the roof to see if there was any debris in the roof gutters and drains.  Check to see if the gutters became full of water or whether the water could flow back into the building.  All of these risks we felt important to the maintenance of the data centre were often not typical major risks you would associate with the upkeep of a technology.  However, it was through knowledge sharing and outside review that we came to realise the importance of these ‘outside’ risks.

Flooding events are not only caused by rain and rivers but also caused in buildings through broken pipes, over flowing hand basins and toilets. 

Water presents a major risk to data centres. 

Sam Mulholland - Managing Director

In carrying out our Risk Assessments, Standby Consulting uses a comprehensive check list that has been developed through many years of research, knowledge sharing and experience. These risk assessments are adapted to suit the regions we work in and modified to suit the client.

For more detail download pdf

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