“What are your data center features?” Surprisingly, this type of question rarely gets asked of our Sales Team by those looking for new Wholesale ERP Software. I say surprisingly because the data center is one of the most critical parts of a business’ success, and its efficacy and security directly impacts the daily operations of your business making it a crucial aspect to explore when conducting a software search.
As the popularity of cloud-based (hosted or SaaS) software solutions reach new heights, the demand for data centers also parallels this trend resulting in continuous developments to the technology behind the infrastructure. If you decide that a hosted wholesale ERP software solution is the right fit for your business, this means that the vendor will house the appropriate hardware and maintain your data, and employees access the software and information via the cloud (through the internet). The vendor becomes responsible for managing hardware and servers and also dealing with IT maintenance on the equipment, data backups and security. Therefore, it is important to educate yourself on some of the latest features and compliance requirements to ensure you’re signing up with a vendor that measures up to today’s high standards of data center security.
First, let’s briefly explore what a data center is….
Think of the data center as the information warehouse of your business. Instead of housing inventory, it houses everything your business needs to collect, manage, store and protect your data such as servers, routers, firewalls, backup equipment…components that make up the core of your business’ information system. Businesses are able to store, process, distribute and allow access to large amounts of data from the software vendor’s data center where the software lives. These facilities are able to store information such as website data, credit card data, sales data, inventory data, accounting data, eCommerce data etc. Hosted software implies that the ERP system and all data maintained with the software is hosted (managed) off-site by the wholesale ERP vendor. You may be familiar with other cloud applications such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure – both of which are cloud computing services created for building, testing, deploying, and managing applications and services through a global network of managed data centers. Behind every cloud-computing service is a network of equipment – servers, routers etc. - that live within data centers around the world.
A data center may be as complex as having an entire dedicated building to house equipment or as simple as having just an area within a building that houses only a few servers. Depending on the level of redundancy, security, compliance and other factors, using a data center is typically a significant investment and asset to software vendors and other businesses, so the smart move is to work with a business partner and data center that is designed to the highest tier of security and technology.
To understand the classifications for the different tiers, it’s important to first understand what redundancy is…
In basic terms, redundancy is the duplication of critical components which increases reliability in case of a power outage, natural diaster, or for backup/maintenance. There are different levels of redundancy… N, N+1, N+2, 2N, 2N+1. If a data center is only at an “N” standard, it means that the facility was designed to account for only the full load of processing power with no redundancy added. N+1 means that an additional component is added to support a single failure. 2N means that the data center is fully redundant and is a mirrored system where the duplicate components are usually housed at a different physical location for greater resiliency. Some data centers offer 2N+1, which is like 2N but with an additional component or piece of equipment as an extra fail-safe.
A data center is ranked as a specific tier based primarily on redundancy, the infrastructure, security, amount of downtime and other factors that establish its reliability.
Tier I – The simplest of all the tiers provides very little to no levels of redundancy.
- Usually lacks features such as a backup cooling system or generator
- Higher annual downtime
Tier II – Has more measures and infrastructure in place that ensure it is not as vulnerable to unplanned downtime as a Tier 1 data center.
- Has partial redundancy
- Lower downtime minutes than Tier I
- Has some backup features such as a backup cooling system or generator
Tier III – A data center built according to Tier III data center specifications must have redundancy and maintainability capabilities.
- Requires at least n+1 (redundancy as well as concurrent maintainability for all power and cooling components and distribution systems).
- Multiple power and cooling distribution paths to the server equipment meaning that if the equipment served by one distribution path fails, it switches to another path as a fail-safe.
- Specific procedures in place that allow for maintenance/updates to be done in the data center, without causing downtime.
- No more than 95 minutes of annual downtime
Tier IV – Very few companies will qualify at this Tier and facilities are usually used by larger enterprises which are reflected by the cost of the software and services.
- 2N+1 fully redundant infrastructure (the main difference between Tier III and Tier IV data centers)
- 26.3 minutes of annual downtime
Other data center features to look out for include:
Infrastructure and Location
When looking to implement a new hosted wholesale ERP solution, it’s important to ask vendors where the data center is physically located. Depending on the location, it may be subject to laws of access different from those in your own country – the very legitimate fear that a foreign government may be able to legislate its way into your confidential business information. Data centers located in different cities within a country or across countries provide added security in the case of a natural environmental disaster or during times of war.
In addition, a data center also requires a significant amount of infrastructure to keep the hardware and software up and running such as power subsystems, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), ventilation and cooling systems, backup generators and cabling to connect to external network operators. A couple features to ask about are:
- Cooling systems
- Raised floor warm aisle, cold aisle configuration
- 2N cooling infrastructure
- Fire suppression
- Pre-action fire suppression system
- Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus (VESDA)
- Fire and smoke alarm system
- Fire detection and suppression systems
Power backup is of the utmost importance for a data center. In case of an emergency situation or as part of a disaster recovery plan, redundancy/backups of your stored data should be ensured by the data center. Have a discussion with the software vendor to ensure that any potential for failures such as power outages, maintenance, fires and weather have been addressed and a disaster recovery plan and fail-overs are in place.
Levels of Security
A good data center will offer multiple levels of security (BioMetric, PIN code, Access card etc.) to prevent the wrong people from gaining access to the equipment being housed. Other security measures include:
- 24/7 video monitoring and manned security
- 24/7 monitoring by Network Operations Center
- Security professional at the complex main entrance
- Secure loading dock area
Management and Monitoring
The odds of someone breaking into the average small business and stealing the actual server are much better than getting into a secure data center. So too are the odds of there being a small fire or flood that goes unnoticed until its too late to save equipment and data. Realistically your data is actually much safer and more secure in a cloud computing environment than in-house. Having said that, the management of the data center is a continuous action. There should be dedicated IT staff to oversee:
- Data management, storage and distribution for customers
- Handling any software, hardware and equipment updates
- Continuous development of backup regimes
- Facilitating and updating emergency planning
Blue Link’s Secure Data Center
Blue Link’s equipment resides at a facility designed to Tier III data center standards, located in Mississauga, ON. The flagship facility is purpose built and equipped with 2N power, cooling and connectivity infrastructure and an indoor generator facility located off-site for added redundancy, providing high levels of reliability and support. Blue Link’s disaster recovery plan includes managing data from multiple physical site locations with extensive backup power. In the event of a blackout, the data center has two times the generation capacity required to run the entire building – so even if one set of generators fail the other set can still run everything.
Still don't trust the cloud? Learn more about cloud-based software solutions, where data is stored and how data is managed.