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» Enterprise IT Planet » Storage » Storage Features

Storage Feels the Heat

By Pedro Hernandez
July 25, 2007

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Kroll Ontrack has seen it all.

Busted, burnt and just plain broken, storage devices in virtually every state of disrepair have ended up at their door. And while the company makes a tidy living by rescuing data from the clutches of oblivion, they don't mind doling out advice on keeping it safe, especially this time of year.

Summer in the United States is usually punctuated by withering temperatures, wildfires and treacherous storms, which not only take their toll on the general population, but computing gear as well. It turns out that the season most school-aged kids and avid vacationers most look forward to also happens to be Ontrack's busiest season.

Over the past five to ten years, Ontrack has noticed a definite upswing in calls during the summer months from firms that require their services, according to Jim Reinert, senior director of Software and Services for the company.

The reason boils down to weather. Oppressive heat, storms and electrical strikes certainly result in direct damage, but it is their effect on local power grids that can indirectly affect data centers and the computing systems within.

Technology, in its own way, also conspires to complicate the issue. While most parts of a PC or server can usually recover from a power problem, save a massive power spike, hard drives loathe unexpected interruptions. And even if the drive escapes unscathed, there always looms the specter of data corruption. The problem grows only more acute when entire systems are built around storage, as is the case in NAS and SAN gear.

So the company has developed a list of tips that can help prevent much of the damage they typically end up fixing.

Reinert likes to share a dead simple "low-tech tip" that could have spared countless server rooms an Ontrack invoice. "Get up on the roof and physically inspect the air conditioning unit," says Reinert. The simple act of clearing leaves from grills and vents can mean the difference between an easy maintenance chore and the double whammy of an expensive HVAC repair plus heat damage to the systems inside.

Some of the other tips include:

  • Backups serve no useful purpose in a crisis if the data preserved on it isn’t current. Backups need to be tested regularly to ensure they are less likely to encounter problems.

  • Businesses with network servers should invest in some form of Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), which uses batteries to keep servers running during power outages.

  • Check protection devices regularly. At least once a year you should inspect your power protection devices to make sure that they are functioning properly. Most good ones will have a signaling light to tell you when they are protecting your equipment properly.

  • Lightning can be a significant problem during seasonal storms. Make sure to install a surge protector between the power source and the computer’s power cable – and spend the extra $20-$30 to get an actual surge protector, not a power strip.

  • Use dedicated circuits. Putting the computer on its own power circuit, so it isn't sharing the power with your air conditioner, greatly improves the power quality and insulates the PC from power sags when these devices are turned on.

Despite every precaution, says Reinert, chances are that a drive will eventually fail and it will inevitably take with it data that wasn't included in the last good backup. In this case, it's important that IT departments establish a relationship with a data retrieval firm as part of the disaster recovery planning process, before their services are required.

From an operational standpoint, this greatly speeds the data recovery process. Reinert notes that many of his clients are already engaged in "a partnership program and have a relationship with us." Since the groundwork is already laid and customers are "on record and on file," the process can begin almost immediately.

And what if your precious data wasn't stored in a plain old hard drive? Reinert says that his company has been able to "recover from disk, tape, digital media, flash, memory sticks..." even "enterprise-class SAN and NAS."

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