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Report: HC Plagued by Data Center Outages

October 27, 2010
by Jennifer Prestigiacomo
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Interview: Larry Ponemon, Ph.D, Chairman and Founder, the Ponemon Institute

Earlier this month, the Traverse City, Mich.-based Ponemon Institute released the first of a two-part national report on data center downtime . In that report, the healthcare sector scored the highest frequency of data center downtime, with an average of three outages over the past two years, as opposed to the financial industry, which reported the lowest frequency of downtime, with 1.8 outages in the same time period. Larry Ponemon, Ph.D, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, in an e-mail interview, recently shared with HCI Associate Editor Jennifer Prestigiacomo his views on how healthcare technology growth is outpacing what legacy hospital data centers can deliver.

Healthcare Informatics: Did you find any of the report’s conclusions surprising?

Larry Ponemon, Ph.D.: I was most surprised by the lack of preparation to respond to data center outages, considering both the frequency of downtime and the realization that availability is absolutely vital to operations. Ninety-five percent of the organizations surveyed have experienced an unplanned data center outage in the past two years, yet just 37 percent feel they have the resources to bring their data center up and running in this situation. This is surprising, as more than half consider every application in their data center to be mission-critical.

HCI: What are some of the most common causes of data center downtime, and what are the implications of this?

Ponemon: Respondents to the survey cited UPS [uninterruptible power supply] battery failure most frequently regarding the cause of data center downtime, followed by exceeding UPS capacity, accidental emergency power off (EPO)/human error and UPS equipment failure. This means that vast majority of data center downtime was related to inadequate investments in a high-availability redundant power infrastructure.

HCI: The report noted that only 16 percent of respondents were certain about the cause of the outage. Why is there so much uncertainty about the root cause of data center outages?

Ponemon: There are a couple of explanations for this uncertainty. Because they’re not as involved at the data center operations level, it’s possible that senior management respondents don’t have the day-to-day knowledge of what’s happening inside the data center—in other words, they are aware when an outage happens, but they may not have all of the background. Aside from that disconnect between senior management and rank-and-file employees, the facility as a whole may not have the appropriate monitoring processes in place to determine the cause of an outage. They may be so focused on reacting to an outage that identifying the cause is an afterthought.

HCI: What are the most effective prevention tactics that IT managers can employ to prevent outages?

Ponemon: Ensuring that UPS batteries are properly maintained, serviced, and replaced is one of the most effective ways to prevent a breach in downtime. Using an integrated battery monitoring system and spare charged batteries onsite will also help to combat an outage before it happens. It’s also important for IT managers to understand their data center’s typical load so the appropriate UPS can be deployed. The survey showed that more than half of all downtime events were the result of exceeded UPS capacity, making this an important issue to address prior to an outage.

HCI: What are the main challenges for CIOs to combat data center outages?

Ponemon: As the survey shows, a lack of resources is a major issue. This could be attributed to a few things, including budgets that don’t align with the goal of providing a high-availability infrastructure. If CIOs and other senior management do not truly understand the cost of downtime in the data center, they likely haven’t allocated the appropriate budget for preventing and responding to outages.

HCI: What are the main implications for the healthcare sector in this report?