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SPECIAL REPORT: Server Room

Superior Planning Pays Off

Information availability is - and will always be - king in government.

So, telling your bosses, colleagues and constituents the data they want to access and the information they need is not available is not an option. They don't care about server utilization or temperature “hot spots”.

It is your job to make sure your organization has the computing power to make information available 24/7/365. What's more, you are serving a community increasingly more mobile; one that has come to expect anytime, anywhere access to the knowledge they need.

So your facility and your computing environment are paramount to your success. The facility may be called a Server Room or a Data Center - or both. And while a Server Room usually describes the area used for smaller arrangements of servers, the difference between a Server Room and a Data Center can often be in the “eye of the beholder”.

“In government, I've seen Data Centers the size of a closet and Server Rooms that are 200,000 square feet,” Brad Nacke Government Business Manager, the Liebert business of Emerson Network Power told 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media. “Often what the facility is called is what the customer chooses.”

No matter what term is used, both Server Rooms and Data Centers have come “out of the backroom” and are in the “crosshairs” of government efforts to increase computing power, while at the same time reduce electrical power, heating and cooling costs.

Many of EPA's, DOE's and GSA's current and future Green Government efforts focus on making the IT and facilities that comprise Server Rooms and Data Centers as energy efficient as they can be.

What Research Says

The pace of change within Server Rooms/Data Centers is increasing according to an October 2008 survey of members of the Data Center Users' Group (DCUG).

According to the research, implementation of new technologies, growing management demands for availability and the adoption of the mobile workplace via wireless devices are increasing the criticality of these facilities. In fact, 75% said these facilities are more critical today than in past years.

Further the research states “power densities across the room and within the rack are rising sharply. In doing so, they're pushing facility capacity to the max - and fast. In the last two years, power density per average rack has risen from 6 kW to 8 kW.”

More than 10% said they will be out of capacity by the end of this year and a total of 68% expect to be at capacity within the nex three years.

Despite the current tight economic climate, 75% are still planning to upgrade their facilities; that demonstrates even more how important technology is. Many are already turning to virtualization technologies to increase computing power and installing advanced heating and cooling technologies to boost energy efficiency.

The movement is on to integrate system-wide scalable architectures that drive down total cost of ownership through a focus on flexibility and efficiency without compromising availability. In fact, the research shows that IT managers are unwilling to compromise availability for efficiency gains.

IT and Facilities Act As One

In the end the research shows there is no universal driver for efficiency; nor is there a common approach to solving problems. There are multiple strategies that must be addressed by a cohesive team that brings together the IT and facilities communities.

These professionals will be called upon to be flexible and work in an environment where the only constant is change. They will be dealing with an ongoing torrent of new technologies that will spawn new design and implementation challenges. They will be called upon to be responsible for purchasing decisions that must integrate energy savings with rising availability requirements.

Plus, IT managers must be prepared for continued emphasis on lowering expenses and exhibit the skills to effectively manage the inner workings of Server Room/Data Center facilities to ensure that the components perform at prescribed levels and last as long a possible.



So, while the servers, the storage, the cooling and the power are the physical entities that must be managed and maintained, it is the professionals in charge who must possess the management skills and the organizational collaboration to meet the challenge.

Server Room Design Hints

Whether you are planning to re-design your current Server Room or to design one from scratch, the bottom line is when you are finished your Server Room should operate as a carefully controlled environment. Design should focus on the space required, computing power needed and the related power requirements specifically:

*Plan for an increased requirement for power in the server room. According to experts you may need to install a redundant, scalable Uninterrupted Power Source (UPS) and power distribution systems to provide adequate power.

*Provide sufficient cooling to handle your requirements. Nothing will impact the availability of your Server Room faster than insufficient cooling. Case in point: Smaller servers don't mean less heat.

*Protect your investment by limiting physical access to your facility and taking the appropriate cyber security measures. You must bring together physical and cyber security professionals to work in tandem to secure your facility from unauthorized entry and cyber attacks.

*Keep a log that records all software and hardware changes (e.g. OS updates configuration changes, hot-fixes, application updates and fixes, and network hardware swap outs and additions). This record provides a log you can use to fix errors.


A Good Plan Pays for Itself

So, who is going to do all this Server Room/Data Center planning?  Can you do it yourself? Do you have the necessary skills t design a space and the supporting infrastructure? Do you have the expertise to:

*Provide estimates of project costs as they relate to the overall availability expectation?

*Identify accurately the equipment, space and IT services needed for critical load profiling?

*To bring the plan to fruition yourself?

As always, a good plan is the essential ingredient needed to deliver a successful project. Successful project managers use plans t keep things on track and prevent as many mistakes as possible.

For example, according to Nacke, sometimes equipment is bought without a clear vision of what it is expected to do. At the same time, facility equipment decisions may be based off of current budgets using the normal lifespan of servers and storage, not facility equipment.

Look To The Future

Nacke says the typical Server Room/Data Center buys IT to last 3-5 years. Even though it is tempting to buy facility equipment tha lasts the same 3-5 years, in fact good facility equipment can last 15-20 years.

“You need to design for the next tech refresh and pre-plan to take into account upcoming capital investments.” For example, years ago no one planned for Blade servers. But as the size of servers has grown smaller, more heat is generated in the same physical space. You need to plan for the next technology.

The message is to educate yourself and find a “trusted advisor”. It may be a Prime contractor you are working with already, a smal niche Systems Integrator or the equipment manufacturers themselves.

Then hire this “trusted advisor” to do a baseline audi of your site and benchmark where you are; that includes your computing, power, heating and cooling needs. “Determine your start point and your end point and work with them to develop a plan that gets yo there,” added Nacke.