IT System Organization for Your Data Center: Essential Tips and Tricks
The role of the data center has changed considerably since the advent of Amazon Web Services and other cloud-based computing solutions. However, data centers are far from obsolete in the corporate world. According to one survey, 70 percent of enterprise computing workloads still ran in on-site corporate data centers as of 2016. Organizations of every size continue to prize the control, stability, and independence that comes with having their own data centers.
To get the most out of your data center, it’s important to optimize it through smart organization. FASTENation offers a complete selection of cable management solutions designed to help maximize your data center’s performance. These and other tweaks to your data center management practices will help ensure that your data center continues to offer the performance that will keep it relevant well into the 21st century. In this article, we’ll identify several key components of the modern data center and discuss some key tips and tricks for each one.
SERVERS AND SERVER RACKS
Servers and server hardware comprise the backbone of your IT infrastructure. These mission-critical assets are a logical place to start when you’re determining how to optimize your data center setup. Positioning and configuring your server racks correctly is key to avoiding future issues with heat, cabling, expansion, and more. When you’re setting up or reorganizing your server equipment, keep these tips in mind:
- Even if your data center is small, it pays to invest in rack-mounted equipment rather than stacking it on shelves. Presumably, you’re aiming to grow and expand your organization, so consider the space and organizing investment that your servers will need as your capacity expands. Rack-mounted server equipment will allow you to grow your infrastructure in an organized and standardized manner. Moreover, racks are specifically designed to keep your equipment securely in place and allow for efficient cable management.
- When purchasing new equipment, always have a plan for how you’re going to fit it into your existing rack structure. Check the number of RUs, or rack units, that your rack is designed to accommodate. One RU equals 1.75 inches. (These are often just written as “U”—for example, the standard server rack has a height of 42U.) Server equipment will almost always have a listed rack unit height that will help you determine whether it will fit in your setup. Almost all server equipment is standardized at 19 inches wide. Any reliable equipment vendor will note if the item does not conform to standard rack-mount dimensions.
- Organizing server racks for heat management is one of the best ways to manage your equipment’s heat output. Often, this involves arranging racks in configurations that concentrate hot and cold air flows to minimize the load on the cooling systems. You can further optimize these airflows through the use of blanking panels in empty rack space and adding hot or cold boxes, prefab structures that create miniature “rooms” inside your data center to direct airflow.
POWER DISTRIBUTION UNITS
Data centers use power distribution units, or PDUs, to regulate the flow of electricity to server equipment. They’re an essential component of the basic architecture that will keep your data center running. Think a PDU as a more heavy-duty cousin to the basic office power strip. Key factors to consider in selecting PDUs include:
- Before you start looking at PDU models, make sure you know whether your building uses single-phase or three-phase power. Most offices and homes use single-phase, while three-phase is the standard for many larger commercial and industrial buildings. If you’re not sure, consult your building’s electricians.
- Consider using a metered, monitored, or switched PDU unit to give your IT team more options for regulating your data center’s power supply. These models allow varying degrees of control through Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) interfaces and, in many cases, allow your IT team to redistribute power loads for optimal efficiency.
- Like other types of data center equipment, PDUs should be selected with an eye toward growth. Select a model with more outlets than you currently require to avoid unnecessary reorganization and replacement later.
You may want to consult a dedicated PDU buyers' guide before making your selection. PDUs, however, are only one part of the picture when it comes to power supply. You’ll also need a contingency plan to protect your system by ensuring that the power stays flowing at the most critical moments.
A reliable power source and backup system are absolutely critical to reaping the rewards and mitigating the risks of running your own data center. An uninterruptible power supply is the industry standard for keeping mission-critical equipment running during an unexpected power outage. These devices stay connected to your network and automatically engage when they sense a power interruption.
Large data centers often use diesel-powered generators. For smaller applications, a battery-powered UPS from an industry leader like APC is the standard. A few tips to optimize your power backups include:
- All the redundant backups in the world won’t help if connection point failure prevents your power from reaching its destination. For this reason, many data centers use a dual-bus UPS system to ensure that their power failsafes function correctly. These systems use multiple PDUs to ensure that backup power is truly redundant and that the failure of one PDU won’t cause a catastrophic system failure.
- Sometimes the most simple errors can be the most damaging. It’s surprisingly common for employees to accidentally knock out power cords, potentially causing huge issues. VELCRO® Brand ONE-WRAP® Cord Straps are designed to guard against this problem by immobilizing power cords. They include a die-cut slit to accommodate a plug head, and wrap securely around the cord using VELCRO® Brand hook-and-loop technology.
CABLE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Organizing the many cables and cords in your data center might not be glamorous work, but it’s incredibly important to its long-term functionality. Creating a logical, consistent, and user-friendly system for cable management as soon as possible will save you the big long-run headaches of disentangling a jungle of Ethernet cords. Use the following tricks to optimize your cabling efficiency:
- Using zip ties is a common practice in cable management, but it’s often not the best option. Hook-and-loop fasteners such as FASTENation’s selection of VELCRO® Brand ONE-WRAP® fasteners are superior in several ways:
- They’re completely reusable, making it easier to reorganize cables without having to cut off a tie and replace it with a new one.
- Zip ties are easy to over-cinch, potentially causing considerable damage to sensitive cable components. Hook-and-loop ties provide a gentle but firm grip on cables that keeps them securely in place without squeezing too tightly.
- Removing zip ties can be a tricky business. It can be done with anything from pliers to a knife, but these methods necessarily involve the risk of cable damage. Hook-and-loop ties are simple to remove without special equipment or sharp implements.
- Labeling your cables is one of the most important organizational best practices. IT experts developed the ANSI/TIA-606-B standard to guide the development of cable labeling systems. Three of the most important aspects of those standards include:
- Consistency: A cable labeling system has to be used consistently across an organization to be effective. The same standards must be applied on all projects, by all stakeholders.
- Pervasiveness: Never label just one end of a cable, and identify both of its termination points on each end. You should also label ports, power supplies, and other critical elements of your system.
- Clarity: Use a label maker to create clean and durable labels rather than DIY methods. Additionally, keep a master record of your labeling conventions to reduce the learning curve for new employees.
- Color coding is another essential practice that the best IT professionals employ. Although you’re, of course, free to develop a system that works for you, using standard cable color coding will make your system considerably more user-friendly. FASTENation even offers VELCRO® Brand ONE-WRAP® Fiber Optic Tape that’s colored to match standard fiber optic color coding.
Operating an efficient and secure data center demands that many separate elements and processes stay running smoothly and simultaneously. To ensure this, you’ll need to employ monitoring systems.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to do this is through SNMP monitoring. SNMP is a set of common protocols that allows the creation of a relatively intuitive monitoring system among a network of devices. Most hardware comes with SNMP software pre-installed. You choose an SNMP manager program that communicates with and queries this software.
Because of its widespread adoption, SNMP offers numerous options and functions. Each organization needs to develop its own structure according to its individual needs. However, there are several key factors that most organizations will want to consider when crafting their SNMP protocols:
- An environmental monitoring system is key, especially for larger server rooms where the temperature is a constant concern. Good environmental monitoring systems can observe and send alerts for devices like fire and security alarms, as well as environmental parameters that include:
- Static Discharge
- Power Status
- HVAC Status
- Remote functionality is essential for a monitoring system. You’ll want to use an SNMP manager that can be accessed remotely from an authorized user’s approved devices. SolarWinds is one highly popular SNMP manager that allows performance monitoring through a mobile app.
- You’ll also want to consider the extensibility factor of any monitoring system you use. Your IT department should easily be able to add new devices and alerts to the network. Like every other component of a functioning server room, plan for growth.
- Make sure that you’re following up-to-date SNMP security protocols. SNMP v3, the latest version of the protocol, offers numerous security improvements on previous versions, including upgraded encryption capabilities. As a final precaution, remember that most devices come pre-installed with SNMP software, so, if you’re not using SNMP, make sure that you turn it off on your network devices.
PHYSICAL SECURITY SYSTEMS
Controlling your own security is one major advantage of operating your own data center. As always, though, it requires taking best practices into your own hands rather than relying on the expertise of an industry giant like Google or Amazon. Creating strong physical security protocols often requires stepping back from the inner workings of a system and considering it holistically. Some of the key considerations in this area include:
- Take the time to ensure that each of your networks and devices is individually secured. Unsecured IoT devices are often the entry point for catastrophic security breaches, such as the Target hack that exploited a vulnerability in the company’s remotely monitored HVAC system. Every Web-enabled device in your data center needs to be individually tested for vulnerabilities.
- Make sure your software isn’t using default passwords and has been updated with all of the latest patches. It might seem almost absurdly simple, but a single bad password or unpatched vulnerability can compromise your network.
- Physical security measures are an essential and often overlooked component of security. These include:
- Placing your data center in a room with secure locks, hinges on the inside, no windows, and at least one CCTV camera.
- Concentrating as many vulnerable devices as possible in the most high-security areas.
- Adding another layer of security by using mounting racks with locking doors.
- Limiting data center access to as few employees as possible.
- Ensuring your printers aren’t storing sensitive information in their onboard memories.
- Familiarize yourself with common server security measures and know which ones you’re running and/or need to keep track of. This is a task that often requires coordination and attention to best practices between multiple departments.
Despite the increasing prevalence of cloud computing for corporate data processing and storage, a private on-premises data center remains a good investment for many organizations. As with any investment, however, diligent research and best practices are necessary to maintain its value. Optimizing your data center is a continual process, and one that requires work, but its rewards are increased efficiency, data security, and control over your most valuable assets. At FASTENation, we’re proud to help our customers pursue those every day.