Few Systems administrators realize how important it is to plan ahead before setting up a server room. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t think so, but planning ahead will save you a great deal of time and frustration in the long run.
It seems obvious, but from personal experience, I’ve learned to remind administrators that their plans should revolve around their needs.
- What do you need now?
- What will you need in the future?
- Do you have a well-defined road map of where your systems are going to go in the future?
For instance, right now, you may want to put all of your equipment in a 12×14 closet, but how much space will you need in five years? Obviously, it’s practical and cost-effective to know how much space you’ll need in the future, but planning ahead also gives you much more room to work with now. Also consider the impact of virtualization. Is this going to decrease your overall footprint, but require more cooling as systems get denser, and are utilized more?
What is the right location?
One of the most important steps of designing a server room is finding an appropriate location. Let me illustrate this point with a negative example.
I worked for a company that was located in a three-story building. On the roof of this building was a smaller structure, which was air-conditioned and secluded. The computer services manager immediately decided that he wanted to work in the building on the roof so that he wouldn’t be interrupted very often. It seems like a good idea, doesn’t it? Well, not really, as he quickly discovered. Every time someone called, he had to waste time in transit to get to his most valuable resource: his clients. Furthermore, the cost of cabling was very high.
You can avoid many problems by choosing a centralized location in your building. The best location would be on the first floor close to the administration offices. You’ll probably communicate with those folks more than with anyone else. Of course, other clients are also important, but you’ll certainly spend a great deal of time in meetings with administrative personnel.
Remember, the more quickly you respond to the needs of your clients, the more popular you’re going to become.
With a centralized location, you’ll spend less time in transit while you’re making service calls. You’ll also save a lot of money on the cabling system if you’re centrally located. You’ll have shorter cables to run. Consequently, you’ll have less maintenance, less hardware (such as routers), and less mapping to worry about.
Let’s not forget appearances, and well documented systems. I have seen many well-designed server rooms turn to a jumbled mess of wiring and chaos. Nowadays, the computer department is one of the most important parts of any business. You’ll want to look like you’re right in the middle of things. If you’re isolated, then people may not know how to contact you, and they may try to fix problems on their own. Even worse, they may just ignore problems and try to work around them. Doing so often leads to bigger problems.
Keeping things organized reflects on the organization as a whole. It’s kind of like having a clean desk with no clutter. You can, of course, always make it a little fun… And don’t forget about grounding equipment. It really does extend the life.
Make the server room off-limits
Some system managers want to be isolated because they don’t want employees to have access to the server room. For some reason, employees tend to congregate in the computer room. Sometimes, they feel more comfortable when they notify you of a problem personally; sometimes, they just stop by for a chat. Of course, the best solution is to make the computer room off-limits to everyone except I.T. personnel. You can control access to the server room by installing a security keypad or a card-access system. You can still maintain contact with your clients by setting up an e-mail system. That way, clients can e-mail their problems to you. Also, keep a log of who has accessed the server room. Many laws actually require this, and you will find that it may save your skin at some point in time.
Control the environment of the server room
The room where you keep your computer equipment must be free from static, magnetic disturbances, and electrical emanations from transformers and fluorescent lights. You should place a static pad near the entrance of the room. That way, employees can discharge themselves before they enter the room. Employees who work in this room must know how to use static protection devices.
For obvious reasons, the room should have air conditioning, and it should be kept clean and free from dust. Keep the temperature at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you have a lot of equipment, you may need to keep it slightly cooler.) Computer equipment isn’t as susceptible to dust as it used to be, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Usually, filters in the air system will keep dust out of the room.
Also, use air conditioners that are designed for constant use. Most residential and business systems are designed to keep humans cool, and not control the environment of electrical equipment. Many times, the AC may be running just to remove humidity from the environment. The key here is to make sure that the cold air flows from the inflow of the servers, or switches, and then get removed from the outflow of the systems. This is commonly called a hot and cold isle due to the nature of the cold air entering the systems, getting heated up, then being sucked out from the room. AC systems should be designed to keep computer equipment happy, and not humans.
Keep the Documentation and Area organized
No matter how much time you spend creating your ideal server room, the job doesn’t end there. You have to be disciplined about keeping things organized and well documented. I have seen many environments where the server room starts out as a model that you would love to display and show to your friends, but because of laziness, or deadline pressures, it quickly becomes a jumbled mess, which believe it or not leads to down time. Just imagine pulling the wrong cable, because documentation wasn’t updated, or pulling a cable accidentally because it was a tangled mess. Make sure you keep your environment clean, and you will reap the benefits.