London data centres face network overload, disruptions during Olympics

Network overload, IT security, data centre power and remote access problems plague London businesses during 2012 Olympics Games. How are IT pros preparing themselves?

Businesses operating along the Olympic Route Network must chalk out their disaster recovery, business continuity and contingency plans now if they want to minimise disruptions.

At this point, data centre managers have less than 100 days to plan their business continuity, disaster recovery and data centre contingency strategies before London 2012's Opening Ceremony on July 18.

Network overload, data centre power management, and secure remote access to mission-critical apps are just some of the issues London businesses will face when the 2012 Olympic Summer Games hit London on July 27.

IT managers warned, but aren’t prepared
The UK government’s official advice suggests that companies develop a business continuity plan that ensure homeworking is supported and that internal systems and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are included in the planning process so that the demands on the system can be understood and managed.  

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The games will prevent many employees from getting to work, so the government also encourages businesses to arrange for staff to work more flexibly during Games time.

This means that data centre managers will need to provide remote access. Yet 41% of organisations do not yet have a remote working strategy in place, a YouGov study found. Of this, 28% of businesses aren’t even planning such a strategy.

“Lack of awareness of both the problem and available solutions are the culprits,” said data centre expert Clive Longbottom, a service director at analyst firm Quocirca Ltd in Reading.

In fact, the YouGov survey found that only 23% of businesses in London and surrounding areas are fully prepared for the potential disruption that London 2012 could bring.

Part of the problem is that few data centre managers fully understand what the Olympics could mean to the data centre, Longbottom said.

Flexing the data centre to support remote working
IT managers should prepare for the Internet to run slowly or collapse occasionally as the activity increases during the Olympics. 

This will massively affect organisations running virtual desktops and those requiring fast access to business-critical applications from outside the corporate network, Longbottom said.

“Remote access and lights out management are the most important aspects,” Longbottom said. Being able to (securely) access and operate a data centre from miles away will minimise the impact of any lock-downs where data centre staff cannot get in or out of the data centre.  

But, this may not help if the network is massively overloaded, he said.

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“It is a necessity to put in place multiple access capabilities – internet WAN, wireless WAN and, for those who feel the need for a third alternative, modem-based ISDN or POTS access to at least allow command line interface (CLI) access to the data centre itself,” Longbottom said.

Urging remote staff to work at off-peak hours is another way to overcome issues, said Roy Illsley an Ovum analyst. Employees could work between 6am to 10am, then break when the Games start and strain the Internet and resume work between 6pm and 10pm, for instance.

“That way, their eight-hour productivity can be maintained and accessing corporate network may be easier,” he said.

Meanwhile, data centre managers need to be on-site to deal with any hardware failures. With so many people working remotely, the odds of hardware failures and other issues are bound to be higher than normal, Longbottom said.

“An already overloaded network suddenly gets hit with even more traffic – which could then bring it down completely,” he said.

Data centre power and cooling challenges
Another issue IT pros must consider is that the Olympic Village will pull a lot of power during the event and businesses that power their data centres from the same power grid will be affected, said Illsley.

“In the next 100 days, data centre managers must have conversations with their staff, power companies and water companies if they use water cooling or evaporative cooling in data centres, to minimise disruption,” said Illsley. If the required energy won’t be available, businesses must think strategically. 

Powering facilities hosting customer service applications and turning off facilities that host less critical apps could help, Illsley said.

Readying data centres for unexpected disruptions
In addition to network and connectivity issues, data centre managers must also prepare for unexpected issues such as terror attacks, experts warned.

“If a terror attack does happen, data centres close to the attack will be directly-- and physically -- impacted,” said Longbottom.  

Even where an attack does not occur, but there is a credible threat, such as an unattended car or a suitcase, localised lock-downs could still impact the capabilities for data centres to operate effectively, Longbottom added.

Is your business based in the Olympics Route Network? What are you doing to minimise disruption? Write to us at [email protected]

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