Uptime Institute's COVID19 Q&A Part 3

COVID-19: Q&A (Part 3): Deferred Maintenance, Remote Work, Supply Chain, Long-Term Outlook

The final installment of our Q&A regarding digital infrastructure considerations during the COVID19 crisis includes Deferred Maintenance, Remote Word, Supply Chain, Tier Standard and Long-Term Outlook

Below is Part 3 of the Q&A responses brought up during our recent series of webinars about managing operational risk during the COVID19 crisis. (Part 1 dealt with Staffing and Part 2 focused on Site Sanitation)


Q: One of our clients does not want to do maintenance to avoid entering the data center. What do you recommend for this? Is it necessary to defer preventative maintenance on data center components?

A: Maintenance activities should be prioritized. At the very least, try to perform the most critical activities. If unable to do this, try to rotate hours as much as possible between redundant components and also contact the manufacturers of components/equipment to better identify the impacts of not performing maintenance on specific equipment. Deferred maintenance brings higher risk; in some equipment this risk is more serious than in others, so maintenance activities should be prioritized in order of criticality. For more information, please see our report COVID-19: Minimizing critical facility risk.


Q: Will the learning from this pandemic be reflected in adjustments in the certification levels of each of the Tiers of the Uptime Institute? Will the Uptime Institute’s standard for operations be updated due to COVID-19, to incorporate lessons learned from this situation? How relevant will DCIM (data center infrastructure management) systems become from this pandemic? Will there be an emphasis on DCIM at the Uptime Institute certification levels?

A: Yes, Uptime Institute is currently evaluating potential adjustments in the criteria of the Uptime Institute Tier Certification of Operational Sustainability to take in consideration the pandemic and potential endemic issues that can affect the normal operation and sustainability of the data center. If the data center has implemented a DCIM system and BMS (building management system), during a pandemic or other similar emergency events these systems should be used to continually monitor, measure and manage both IT and supporting infrastructure equipment such as power and cooling systems. There should be an emphasis on all virtual private network (VPN) connections, which should be tested to ensure reliable access for remote data center monitoring.

Q: Will future operational [sustainability] or management and operations awards contemplate additional procedures associated with pandemic risks?

A: Yes, Uptime Institute is currently evaluating and planning modifications of the Uptime Institute Tier Certification of Operational Sustainability, which will result in a change in the evaluation of data centers’ ability to mitigate various risks, including pandemics.

Q: What would be the “Tier IV measures” in a data center regarding COVID-19?

A: Uptime Institute Tier IV is a reference largely to data center topology design and installation. COVID-19 is mostly impacting data center operations. Therefore, COVID-19 would not impact the Tier IV compliance of a facility.


Q: How can we minimize the issue of network saturation because we are all working from home?

A: We recommend that all remote workers have established security policies set up by their IT departments, and that IT departments explore potential bottlenecks and recommend mitigation efforts.

Many employees working from a home office will use their ISP (internet service provider) to access the cloud and office LAN (local area network) over VPN, where the read/write profile is totally different compared with, say, a Netflix streaming movie (which is practically all downloading and has a “read” profile). Adding consumption from others in the home (such as family members also working or doing remote schooling), the “read” function is increased and often becomes the great villain in bandwidth consumption. This can cause bandwidth limits being reached, leading to packet loss or time outs, delivering a slow internet experience.

With regard to VPNs, as part of their cybersecurity policies, many organizations and governments use strict access policies to control LAN users when working from the office. Remote workers use VPNs to build a tunnel in their ISP, linked with their office’s secure access, however, this model is rigid and wasn’t developed to accommodate the number of employees currently working remotely. This can lead to additional bottlenecks, giving the same slow internet experience as from home. Occasionally, connected to the LAN, a remote worker’s internet access will pass through their company´s firewall to locate a cloud-based service. This can cause a serious degradation of service because the remote worker’s cloud services traffic is compounded by activity such as their video-conferencing traffic and by their family´s consumption.

Q: Any recommendations for the security of data center information? The question relates to the importance of remote monitoring of mission-critical systems and whether this would be done through cloud-hosted applications.

A: If the data center has implemented remote monitoring and BMS, these systems should be used during a pandemic or other similar emergency events to monitor, measure and manage both IT equipment and supporting infrastructure such as power and cooling systems. There should be emphasis on all VPN connections to ensure they are tested and enable reliable access for remote data center monitoring.


Q: In the case of suppliers working at reduced capacity, do you recommend purchasing spare parts stock for operating equipment, taking into account the budget constraints/budget recommendations of prioritization?

A: The potential for long-term disruption to the supply chain for critical spares and consumables should be considered. If service level agreements include spare-parts supplies, communication should be established to ensure key equipment parts are available and/or to establish additional time for arrival in case of failure or emergency.


Q: Once this pandemic is overcome, it should accelerate the transfer of data center owners’ IT platforms to large data centers or to the cloud. What is your vision with regard to this issue?

A: There are several dynamics at play here, and for this reason, it is premature to give any definitive guidance until the situation clarifies. But some observations:

  • Many enterprises are likely to conclude that they want to reduce risk and complexity in the future, and they will not welcome the extra costs and processes associated with reducing the impact of future pandemics. For many, the obvious solution will be to go to the cloud or colocation companies. But the former, while strategic for many, will be most disruptive, perhaps more expensive, and may make the risks less visible.
  • Our research already shows that the biggest single impact of the lockdown has been to delay data center and IT projects. This is likely to slow down any major cloud/colocation moves, as a backlog builds and new priorities come into play. Overall, there is likely to be bias toward strengthening the status quo.
  • As we move out of the pandemic, many enterprises will have cost-reduction programs in place resulting from loss of business. Cloud has many advantages, but few large businesses have found it to be cheaper, especially where data centers are already depreciated. And almost all find that even where the costs are not higher, there are temporary transition costs.

Of course, every application, every service and every company is different. Although it is speculative, we think it likely that using colocation will prove a less-disruptive and more cost-effective path than full-on cloud transformation. While the long-term trend toward cloud will continue, there may be more pressure on cloud operators to take active steps to attract enterprise workloads.

Q: What do you see as the future focus, having now had a pandemic as a precedent?

A: In situations like this, data centers face particular challenges due to the unavailability of key personnel to be in their roles due to illness or quarantine. We recommend that organizations develop a specific pandemic preparedness plan similar to civic emergencies that focuses on performance, efficiency and reliability that include contingency plans that can be adapted to the challenges of the current pandemic or the potential of recurrent endemic events. Each organization’s response will vary based on individual site environments and local government/mandatory restrictions. Plans should consider situations in which staff may be unable to access or leave the site on short notice. Please refer to our report COVID-19: Minimizing critical facility risk, which addresses this topic in detail.

Q: What time projection does Uptime Institute have for the COVID-19 crisis?

A: Unfortunately, there is insufficient information at this point in time to answer questions regarding the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

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