Twenty timeless fundamentals of facilities management

A data center manager has a lot to consider: Heating, cooling, power, disaster recovery and staff training to name a few. Read this tip to make sure you've got everything covered.

When planning something as complicated as a datacenter, it is inevitable that something is going to get overlooked. This article from Informit's IT Management Reference Guide provides a list and some details of facility management elements to help you make sure all the bases are covered.

If we were to ask typical infrastructure managers to name the major elements of facilities management, they would likely mention common items such as air conditioning, electrical power, and perhaps fire suppression. Some may also mention smoke detection, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), and controlled physical access. Few of them would likely include less common entities such as electrical grounding, vault protection, and static electricity. This article describes both the well-known and the not so well-known physical entities of a typical modern data center. The following is a comprehensive list of the major elements of facilities management.

Major Elements of Facilities Management

  1. Air conditioning

  2. Humidity

  3. Electrical power

  4. Static electricity

  5. Electrical grounding

  6. Uninterruptible power supply (UPS)

  7. Backup UPS batteries

  8. Backup generator

  9. Water detection

  10. Smoke detection

  11. Fire suppression

  12. Gas Leaks

  13. Facility monitoring with alarms

  14. Earthquake safeguards

  15. Safety training

  16. Supplier management

  17. Controlled physical access

  18. Protected vaults

  19. Physical location

  20. Classified environment

Temperature and humidity levels should be monitored constantly, either electronically or with recording charts, and reviewed once each shift to detect any unusual trends. Many shops today find it more cost-efficient to use automatic remote monitoring with third party vendors for these measurements during off-hours. In these cases, checks should be made to ensure that monitoring is occurring satisfactorily, and that the vendor knows who to call, how to escalate, and which alternate numbers to use. I know of a few recent instances in which wrong numbers were used, and in one case, where the call was made only after two hours had elapsed from the time a high temperature alarm and alerts were activated. Fortunately, no permanent damage to equipment was sustained, although the delayed response resulted in a four hour outage to critical online systems.

Temperature hot spots are becoming more of a concern these days for data center directors and facilities managers. Equipment such as blade servers compact disk arrays tend to concentrate the production of heat into smaller confined areas of a data center. Most high capacity air conditioning systems for data centers distribute the cooling in a uniform manner. Special venting, the re-routing of ducts and the positioning of fans can direct the cooled air to where it is needed most.

Electrical power includes continuous supply at the proper voltage, current, and phasing as well as the conditioning of the power. Conditioning purifies the quality of the electricity for greater reliability. It involves filtering out stray magnetic fields that can induce unwanted inductance, doing the same to stray electrical fields that can generate unwanted capacitance, and providing surge suppression to prevent voltage spikes. Static electricity, which affects the operation of sensitive equipment, can build up in conductive materials such as carpeting, clothing, draperies, and other non-insulating fibers. Antistatic devices can be installed to minimize this condition. Proper grounding is required to eliminate outages and potential human injury due to short circuits. Another element sometimes overlooked is whether batteries that support an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) are kept fully charged.

Water and smoke detection are common environmental guards in today's data centers as are fire suppression mechanisms. Facility monitoring systems and their alarms should be visible and audible enough to be seen and heard from almost any area in the computer room, even when noisy equipment such as printers are running at their loudest. Equipment should be anchored and secured to withstand moderate earthquakes. Large mainframes decades ago used to be safely anchored, in part, by the massive plumbing for water-cooled processors and by the huge bus and tag cables that interconnected the various units. In today's era of fiber-optic cables, air-cooled processors, and smaller boxes designed for non-raised flooring, this built-in anchoring of equipment is no longer as prevalent.

Emergency preparedness for earthquakes and other natural or man-made disasters should be a basic part of general safety training for all personnel working inside a data center. They should be knowledgeable about emergency powering off, evacuation procedures, first-aid assistance, and emergency telephone numbers. Providing training to data center suppliers in these matters is also recommended.

Most data centers have acceptable methods of controlling physical access into their machine rooms, but not always for vaults or rooms that store sensitive documents, check stock, or tapes. The physical location of a data center can also be problematic. A basement level may be safe and secure from the outside, but it might also be exposed to water leaks and evacuation obstacles, particularly in older buildings. Locating a data center along outside walls of a building can sometimes contribute to sabotage from the outside.

Classified environments almost always require data centers to be located as far away from outside walls as possible to safeguard them from outside physical forces such as bombs or projectiles, as well as from electronic sensing devices.

In fairness to infrastructure managers and operations personnel, several of these elements may be under the management of a company's facilities department. In these cases, no one in IT would have direct responsibility. But even in this instance, infrastructure personnel and operations managers would normally want and need to know who to go to in the facilities department for specific types of environmental issues. Read more of Informit's IT Management Reference Guide.

This was first published in August 2005

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