Hot Zones and Hot Spots: Datacenters in a Pandemic
The tech industry is the bedrock of global connectivity in the 21st century. Our industry
strives to lead the way in productivity and ingenuity through its ability to unite people from all
across the world. However, that same interconnectedness has contributed to the unprecedented
and destructive spread of the COVID-19 virus. The extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-
19 pandemic challenge our industry to re-evaluate its behavior so we can prevent similar,
seismic disruptions in the future. This pandemic has illuminated critical vulnerabilities inherent in
modern business and specifically within the tech industry. To prevent similar disruptions moving
forward, there are foundational procedures in business practice and data management should
be reevaluated for a safer and more productive future.
What Can Be Done
Potential virus spread is created through human contact, shared spaces, and common
surfaces in the tech industry. Efforts taken to limit these circumstances in day-to-day work can
protect employees, business, and the public as a whole from illness. To that end, approaches in
infectious disease control from the healthcare industry can be implemented in ways specific to
practices of the tech industry. The broad strokes of those approaches are:
● Limit personnel exposed
● Isolate spaces of contact
● Sanitize and sterilize all common surfaces
In the era of big data, the most salient aspects of disease control apply to office spaces
and datacenters. The risk of illness in office spaces can be largely mitigated through remote
work, online meetings, and a culture of hygiene. However, keeping datacenters clean can be
more problematic. Migrating applications to cloud based systems is an excellent way to cut
down on potential disease spread because they are remotely accessible and cut down on
physical datacenter costs. But if an application cannot be cost-effectively run in the cloud and
requires a physical location, then implementing these simple procedures can drastically reduce
potential disease spread.
1.Limit number of people with access to the data center
If only essential personnel can enter the datacenter then there are fewer people to carry germs into the datacenter and less subsequent sanitization to be performed. This may also mean limiting use of smart hands to keep equipment clean.
2. Lay out sterile access procedures
If the datacenter is in a colocation, then all
employees should be made aware of simple processes to keep themselves healthy by
datacenter management. Ask security to open doors remotely whenever possible,
sanitize hands before and after touching keypads and hand scanners and wipe down
access badges with alcohol to prevent buildup of germs. We do the same with our
phones! If the datacenter is in an office setting or otherwise controlled by the company,
similar access processes should be communicated and posted by management. In both
cases, sanitization stations should be placed regularly throughout the facility along
common access paths.
3. Limit contact with equipment
All employees should keep their contact limited to specific areas in the cage when working with equipment. Common toolsets should be sterilized before and after use and employees should bring in their own laptops and limit use of shared workstations. Most importantly, any work with the actual datacenter equipment should be performed with latex gloves on because these pieces can be some of the most potent reservoirs of germs.
Benefits and Risks
Implementing procedures will significantly cut down on the amount of time employees
are ill both in and out of the workplace. Often, datacenter employees will not take time off when
sick due to the culture of the tech industry labor, but their work efficiency will suffer if they are ill
and continue working. And those more seriously ill will need to take time off of work to recover,
thus losing more productivity through the interruption. By contrast, these procedures can vastly
reduce the number of employees that will fall ill and therefore boost the efficiency and
productivity of the company. It’s especially important to implement these procedures in high-use
data centers which require high concentrations of people and thus harbor much higher risk of
Some potential risks to enforcing these measures include a higher risk of downtime if there is an outage and an essential employee is unavailable to access the datacenter to address the issue in a timely manner. But this can be mitigated by always scheduling an essential employee on call for datacenter access or stationing them in the datacenter. There is also increased cost incurred by running more stringent access procedures, but this cost will be offset by the gains in productivity from fewer ill employees. These are small, easily mitigated risks that are far outweighed by the benefits of operating clean datacenters.
Simple, easy procedures can keep employees healthy and safe in datacenters with
minimal interruption to workflow and function. While these changes are small, we can see they
are essential and necessary changes in light of the current global situation. The tech industry
can either be a harbor for the spread of disease through its use of unclean datacenters or it can
continue to lead the world in ingenuity by creating clean and safe practices of daily operation.