Covid-19: Uptime Institute advises operators to suspend non-essential datacentre projects

Datacentre resiliency think-tank issues 18-page guidance to help operators protect staff during the coronavirus pandemic while keeping their facilities ticking over

Datacentre operators are being urged to consider postponing or cancelling any upgrades or migration projects to reduce the risk of their IT staff contracting the Covid-19 coronavirus.

An 18-page advisory document published by the Uptime Institute datacentre resiliency think-tank sets out the steps that datacentre operators of all types – from multi-tenant colocation facilities to private datacentres and server farms housed within mixed-use facilities – should take to protect their staff during the pandemic.  

This includes “avoiding unnecessary risks”, such as embarking on projects that put staff at heightened risk of infection, and put additional strain on suppliers.

Also, given the economic impact coronavirus is having on businesses across the world, the document said it might be prudent for some companies to press pause on such projects to reduce their risk of “cash flow” exposure, too.

“For organisations involved in datacentre construction, major upgrades or extensions of capacity, the pandemic presents challenges,” says the document.

“Construction speed has a big impact on cost, and delays in one area can impact many other areas and other suppliers. In this case, however, delays may be advisable.”

The document says all all non-essential projects should be suspended “when possible”, but if work must continue, the Uptime Institute recommends introducing safeguards to ensure project team members are kept away from those providing operational, day-to-day support for sites.

“If possible, create a separate, secure entrance for all parties involved in the project and establish isolation of the project personnel from the operations personnel,” says the document.

“Operations team members who are assigned to project oversight or supervision should be dedicated to those duties and not allowed to interact with duty operations personnel.”

The document also makes the case for operators to postpone all “non-essential” maintenance tasks and reschedule high-risk testing until after the pandemic subsides, and to prepare for component shortages and supply chain disruption.

“Anticipate and prepare for supply-chain disruptions on items such as cabling, server racks, critical infrastructure spares and other components,” it says. “Order more inventory and discuss projected lead times with vendors and suppliers.

“Develop plans to deal with the possibility of a major equipment failure when you may not have access to key personnel or resources owing to supply-chain disruptions.”

The datacentre sector is at heightened risk of disruption as a result of the coronavirus, the document warns, because of severe skills shortages in certain geographies, which make it extremely difficult to find replacement staff with the right knowledge and expertise to plug any gaps.  

“Current events reinforce the need for increased efforts on the part of the industry, educational institutions and trade organisations to strengthen recruitment and training programmes,” says the document.

“Similarly, the use of automation and remote monitoring can enable facilities to operate more effectively, and for longer, with less need for on-site staff. The pandemic may accelerate the long-term trend in this direction.”

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In the interests of safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the staff that datacentres do have, the document makes a series of recommendations about the steps that should be followed by operators during the pandemic.

It includes practical advice on ensuring staff have access to hand sanitiser and disinfecting wipes throughout the facility, and to conduct multiple cleaning rounds each day, taking in heavy-contact surfaces such as door handles, light switches and hand rails.

It also suggests that operators suspend the use of “mantraps” at the entrances of their data halls, which are traditionally used to reduce the risk of authorised datacentre personnel being “tail-gated” into data halls by people who do not have the necessary access credentials.

However, the report says the use of mantraps could act as a “repository” for the virus because they are typically small, confined spaces without ventilation.

“Consider limiting the use of them and/or sanitising them after each use,” says the Uptime Institute advisory.

The document also makes the point that datacentres are treated by operators as mission-critical facilities, and that “preparedness” is in “the industry’s DNA”, which makes it more than capable of rising to the coronavirus challenge.

“Thanks to their focus on performance, efficiency and reliability – tested through prior experience with power blackouts, wildfire, adverse weather and other potentially disruptive events – most datacentre owner/operators have contingency plans in place that can be adapted to the challenges of the current pandemic,” it adds.

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