Expert Blog: Let’s Talk Honestly About Data Center Uptime

Lisa Masiello
By Lisa Masiello

One of the most frequently cited pieces of information in a data center’s sales arsenal is their uptime percentage.It’s also near the top of a prospect’s list of questions to ask when evaluating the best data center for their needs.

What’s often overlooked is how uptime is monitored and measured. In reality, data center uptime can be manipulated to indicate better availability than customers receive.

What Does Uptime Measure?

When a data center references uptime, they’re referring to the availability of their internal network. They don’t include any external connections, ISPs, or other providers in their uptime guarantee. This is a misconception that many businesses have, and you need to consider when you hear a data center claim to have 100% uptime.

Two Key Ways You Can be Misled by a Data Center’s Uptime Percentage

1. The Data Center Uses CDN Distribution

To maintain uptime availability for their website, some data centers choose to use Cloudflare, Fastly, KeyCDN, or another Content Delivery Network (CDN). A website’s large image files take time to download so a CDN site can help eliminate latency by caching the images and delivering them to the site visitor from a local server. Adding the HTML portion of the site to the CDN network also helps the site appear as if it is available when it is not.

2. Use of a Maintenance Window for Non-Maintenance Related Activities

A maintenance window is a specified period during which preventative maintenance is conducted on the data center’s hardware, systems, and services. This normally includes planned downtime, which is scheduled in advance, so clients are not inconvenienced.

Scheduled maintenance is not normally reported as an outage against a data center’s uptime guarantee. As a result, some data centers that want to hide their actual downtime create a so-called maintenance window for every issue that arises. Data centers that schedule frequent maintenance windows may be trying to manipulate their uptime percentage and reduce their liability or responsibility in crediting customers under their SLA contract.

Steps You Should Take

Kia Jahangiri, CEO of MULTACOM, a Los Angeles, California-based provider of dedicated hosting, colocation, and other data center services, offers insight which is frequently overlooked by companies evaluating data center providers. “Some data centers may outsource their website, email, and other applications because they can’t achieve a high level of performance or speed on their own internal network. Since the performance of their network is probably one of the primary reasons you’re seeking them out in the first place, you need to ask yourself, ‘If they don’t have enough confidence in their own infrastructure, why should I?’”

Here are some steps you can take to evaluate whether a data center can deliver the uptime they claim:

  • Make sure the data center’s public website is not distributed by a CDN.
    You want to know how your applications will perform by analyzing the availability and responsiveness of the data center’s network. This can only be done if the data center is hosting their site on their network within their facility.  When a data center hosts its website in its facility, the uptime availability can be easily reviewed by third-party monitoring services. This makes the information publicly available to a potential client like you and you will have a much more accurate understanding of the uptime percentage your business will achieve.
  • Determine how many maintenance windows they have had over a specific period.
    Announcing many maintenance windows over a short period may give you a clue that a data center is trying to hide the actual number of outages they had. Ask how many maintenance windows they have had over the last year.
  • Ask if they have service contracts with creditable vendors.
    A data center will contract with vendors to maintain their generators, UPS, HVAC, and other systems. However, a general vendor contract is not sufficient to endure that the data center will be up and running quickly in the event of an outage or longer-term disaster. Select a data center which has service contracts with creditable vendors who can guarantee response times of less than 2 hours.
  • Discuss their load balancing capabilities.
    Load balancing enables internet traffic to be distributed over multiple paths to a single destination. Determine if the data center’s network is set up to select the best route based on factors such as the number of network hops, the distance, latency measurements, or the least congested path. This provides a robust network with a high level of availability.
  • Review their redundancy measures.
    • Are there on-site diesel generators? Are they refilled regularly, and can they maintain power in the event of a disaster?
    • Are there spare parts on hand that can be installed immediately?
    • How is power monitored? Ideally, it should be monitored at the rack level, the PDU level and at the main to ensure every stage is covered.
    • Can power loads be shifted dynamically so no outage occurs?

The Final Word

Every time a data center has an outage, whether for 5 minutes or 5 hours, that means lost productivity, lost business, and lost revenue for your company. When evaluating a data center, you must be aware of some of the measures which can make an uptime percentage look better than it is. If they claim to be able to manage your hosting and infrastructure needs, they should be able to successfully manage their own.

About eBridge Marketing Solutions and Lisa Masiello

Lisa Masiello is an award-winning B2B strategist for the technology industry and Chief Digital Strategist at eBridge Marketing Solutions. Her clients include ISVs, MSPs, VARs, data centers, and other IT service providers. Lisa speaks at tech industry conferences and writes on topics related to SaaS, cloud computing, data center infrastructure, customer experience, go-to-market strategy, and sales channel development.

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