on keeping corporate data safe
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
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
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
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
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
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!