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How well do you know your data host?

A WorldCom data center that went down in Boston last week interrupted service to enterprise customers for only a brief time, but the event raises a troubling question about how well companies know their data hosts.

Last week, WorldCom Inc.'s Boston data center went down for about 10 minutes in the middle of the day. Ten minutes of downtime isn't a disaster, but when your company does all of its business on the Web, even 10 minutes can be costly.

Worst of all, there is nothing anyone in your company can do to fix the problem, other than sit and wait and hope that the situation is rectified quickly. But there are a few steps that you can take upfront to help limit the number of times that you get that call saying your Web site just isn't working.

Zeus Kerravala, vice president of enterprise computing with the Boston-based research firm theYankee Group, said that it is important to get to know the company that will be hosting your data. Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions upfront.

Most problems with data centers are due to human error and often can be traced back to router configuration, he said. The good news is that human error can always be limited. Find out what workflow procedures are in place and what configuration management software the company is using. If the company doesn't know how to answer your question, you should move on, Kerravala said.

Workflow procedures are very important, Kerravala said. Data centers need controls on access and on who can make changes. That way, one individual cannot make too many changes on a whim, he said. And it is important that the company use some sort of configuration management software.

If these assurances are not enough and your organization is willing to spend some money to ensure its Web site uptime, you may consider hosting your own data in-house. That way, you are in control of the process and fixing the problems. If you have trained staff in-house, the cost may be less than what you pay for hosting, Kerravala said. With this setup, you can use a data center as the backup.

Finally, if companies are large enough and rely on their Web sites for the core of their business, they may consider using two data centers mirrored together. That will always provide the highest level of protection and help to ensure that you won't get too many calls from customers wondering why your Web site isn't there anymore.


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