How I recovered from a data centre disaster

david-freeland-thumbDavid Freeland co-founded SMS Central back in 2009, after purchasing the business through a publicly listed entity. The company enables mass text messaging – which is perfect for marketing and government services – and is turning over impressive revenue of $15.9 million.

But early in the life of SMS Central it suffered a massive outage for nearly an hour, after its data centre was affected by flooding in Melbourne. Freeland says it was the longest 45 minutes of his life – and made him adamant it would never happen again.

So how did SMS Central begin?

SMS Central was acquired by me and a few business partners, and Dominic Carosa is one of those. We bought the business out of a publicly listed entity in December 2009, and we took commercial and operational control. There was a real shift in the business, we only had two developers, and there are now 20 of us. Dominic was involved in purchasing other assets at the time, had a look at the mobile space and liked what he saw.

We saw some opportunity in that market, the company was good at what it did, it gave us a head start to at least buy something with some foundations and from that we changed its direction over the past two years. We’ve been rebuilding technology and keeping it fresh. Being in tech, there’s a never-ending list of things you can improve.

And when did you experience this massive outage?

We acquired the business and at that point we were kind of rebuilding everything and just checking out where the business was. We hosted our own infrastructure and hardware.

But in March 2010 in Melbourne, there was severe flooding all across the city, especially in Southbank where our data centre was situated. They had some gutter flooding there, and they had to shut down a whole portion of the data centre, even the redundancy electricity.

More and more of our systems just started to basically say “we don’t exist”, and we had customers calling straight away. It was about two or three in the afternoon, and it was the longest 45 minutes of my life.

Forty five minutes isn’t a lot of time – but for an online business like yours, it’s everything.

It really is. It’s just the longest 45 minutes. You’re essentially helpless. For the data centre we’re one of many businesses affected, but to me, that was our entire business.

From that point, we’ve really put a huge amount of investment and resources into not only geographically spreading out the data centres, but making sure we’re in control as much as possible. We rely on the people we have to keep us up to speed on that.

And after a recent acquisition earlier this year, we now have direct connections into the three main operators, so for us it’s being able to not only cover ourselves from a data centre point of view, but from the point of view of message delivery as well.

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