When it comes to running sophisticated data centers, financial-services firms are front and center.Financial firms have the trifecta of drivers: money (financial firms spend substantially more of their annual revenue on IT than most other organizations), massive volumes of data, and a recognized requirement for making sure that data is highly accurate and optimally available.So what are financial services firms up to in the data center area? We asked. This past summer, Nemertes Research worked with the Wall St. Technology Association to benchmark the practices of the WSTA\u2019s members, which include some of the largest and most sophisticated financial firms in the world.In a nutshell, financial firms are aggressive about deploying cutting-edge technology, including storage and compute virtualization; disciplined about consolidation; and zealous about business-continuity planning and disaster recovery. Some specifics:* Culturally, 50% of benchmark participants described themselves as \u201caggressive,\u201d and another 14% described themselves as \u201cbleeding edge\u201d when it comes to technology deployment. This is more important than it might sound, since a company\u2019s \u201ctech culture\u201d is a key determinant of the business value a firm obtains from IT. More aggressive companies deploy technology earlier in the lifecycle, and thus reap benefits their competitors don\u2019t (though admittedly at a greater cost).* Financial firms are standouts when it comes to virtualization. The majority deploy storage-area networks (63%) or network-attached storage (50%), and most do both. Moreover, they\u2019ve generally rolled out compute-virtualization products like EMC\u2019s VMware, and are among the 10% of companies that Nemertes has benchmarked that are test-driving grid computing.* Benchmark participants are also sophisticated when it comes to data center organization and process. Most have consolidated data centers down to two to three; if there are two, they\u2019re synchronously replicated to serve as hot backups - if three, the third typically replicates asynchronously with the other two. And they\u2019re disciplined about disaster-recovery testing, with 75% testing multiple times per year.* The rigor makes sense, as uptime requirements for financial firms are among the highest in the industry. Fifty percent say they\u2019re \u201czero-downtime\u201d enterprises, meaning the data centers can\u2019t go down anytime, for any reason, ever - a condition the folks at IBM like to call \u201cextreme availability.\u201dEven if they\u2019re not under the same constraints as financial firms, companies in other industries can pick up a few pointers from these insights. First, you should match your data center technology deployment to your overall \u201cIT culture.\u201d Assess both compute virtualization (VMware and grid) and storage virtualization (SAN, NAS, and associated management). Make sure you fully understand your organization\u2019s requirements for downtime, and match your redundancy architecture and business continuity\/disaster recovery practices to those requirements.