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    Lessons on keeping corporate data safe

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver  October 17-23, 2006; issue 886

    High Tech Office column

    While perhaps better known for offering long-distance and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service to home and business customers, Primus Canada also runs three Internet data centres, providing a resource for businesses to house (“co-locate”) network servers.

    Primus’ Vancouver data centre opened this September, adding to the company’s Ottawa and Toronto facilities.

    Located at Hastings and Seymour in downtown Vancouver, it joins other hosting services attracted to the neighbourhood by the Internet mainline coming into the nearby Harbour Centre. This lets Primus promise quick and easy connections to all the various major Internet connections.

    The new data centre has been designed to maximize security and network uptime. These priorities are reflected throughout the centre. For example, anyone wanting to get past the plain, unmarked door needs both a pass card and to have their thumbprint checked; borrowing someone else’s pass card won’t get you in.

    And that’s just for the first door. You still have to get through a second locked door.

    Fire and electrical protection similarly have multiple levels of backup. If the electrical power fails, three sets of UPS battery-power automatically kick in. After 60 seconds, a diesel electric generator starts up. A 24-hour supply of fuel is on-hand, with multiple scenarios in place for longer power outages.

    Much of the server storage is housed in cabinets mounted on base-isolated platforms. In case of an earthquake, they sway to counteract tremor and shock.

    Building on industry experience with disasters ranging from 9-11 to the Quebec/Ontario ice storm to Hurricane Katrina, Primus business services vice-president A.J. Byers suggests that to maximize security, businesses should house critical servers in other climate (and earthquake) zones. In other words, Vancouver companies may want to locate servers in Ontario and vice versa.

    While it’s now practical to manage servers in remote locations, Byers noted that the company has found that the most of its clients prefer to deal with a facility that’s close. It seems to be comforting to be able to drop in and see your anonymous-looking server sitting in its steel cage.

    While only a few of us may be prepared to take the same level of precautions to protect our data, there are some lessons here for all of us.

    As always, consider the implications to you and your business from a number of scenarios ranging from temporary loss of network access to loss of computerized data. Would being offline for a day be a minor inconvenience or lead to bankruptcy? How about being offline for a week?

    Frequent backups help, but some backup strategies provide protection in more scenarios than others. For instance, backing up or mirroring computer data to a second hard drive in the same computer can be fast and easy and can be set up to run with virtually no user intervention.

    But while this offers protection if the main hard drive fails, it’s no help if the computer is stolen or if the building burns down. For more protection, ensure that at least some recent backups are stored off-site.

    And periodically try to restore from your backups. Few things are more frustrating (and potentially business-killing) than discovering only when you need them that your backups are unusable!

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan