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Article featured in - July 8, 2005

Three Ways To Run Your Data Center Better
Design, Cleaning & Relocation Experts Can Be A Boon

If you have a data center, you have to staff it, run it, keep it safe from hackers, keep it safe from careless employees, make sure its not too hot, make sure its not too cold, keep it on budget, fight to increase its budget (or fend off budget cuts from nothing-but-numbers CFOs), hire vendors, fire vendors, worry about random acts of God (such as the lightning bolt that hit nothing in the near vicinity but your T1 line), and more.

You also have to design and redesign it in an ever-ongoing process. And if that weren't enough, you have to keep it clean and perhaps even move it, a job that can make even the strongest of us wince. But there are vendors who can help? Sometimes more than you'd think. The trick, of course, is knowing if they're right for you and when to use them.

Design, Anyone?

Its one thing to manage an extant data center; its another to build it from the ground up or improve its designs.

Most people, says Pete Sacco, president of PTS Data Center Solutions, don't have all the skills they need to design one of these.

Sacco argues that good data center designers are more than technologists. They pull corporate goals, budgets, project management issues, and technology into a holistic view of the process.

We focus on a balance between business objectives, the technology strategies you need to deploy, and the capacities of the property, he says, speaking of the hundreds of data center designers across the nation.

Good ones, of course, can help you find efficiencies you might not have thought of. They can help you assess the impact that server compaction might have on data center cooling, for instance. But even beyond their specialized insight, they can help you do a job that gets harder by the day.

Business manager, project manager, IT manager . . . those are just some of the hats that today's CIO is asked to wear by management, says Sacco, and he just doesn't know how to do it all.

Be Wary

But not all consultants are equal. When choosing one, Sacco warns you to walk gingerly. There are a bunch of sources, he says, including the most expensive, such as the architecture and engineering industry. But they don't always address the modern-day technology problems in a data center.

As if that weren't enough, he notes that Data center consultants? network people, support and infrastructure people, cabling people, and all those guys who call themselves data center designers? too often have a specific focus and can't address all your needs at once. Even the big boys? Dell, IBM, and other IT giants? will help you design a data center expertly, so long as you use their products.

The bottom line? If you cant find an expert with the right all-around approach, consider doing the job yourself, especially if its a simple, small design problem.

Of course, even if you find the right designer, you still need to convince the powers that be that he's worth the cost. According to Sacco, the best way to do that is with case studies, financial impact statements, ROI examples, and reams of other hard data that hit CFOs and others deep in their financial cortex. When choosing a designer, make sure he can help you craft your argument and give you plenty of ammo to bring directly to your company's top brass.

Squeaky Clean

Once you have a data center up and running, you have to keep it clean, and that's a job that CFOs and other check-signers are far more likely to approve. There are hundreds of vendors that will keep dust and other devils out of your precious data center for the right price.

Why bother? Because cleaning your data center every day, week, or month will help your machines run better. Hence they'll crash less, and you wont have to service them as much. You'll also spend less money. CEOs, CFOs, and other executives tend to understand that point with minimal instruction.

So how do you choose a cleaning service? Beyond the basics, such as price, range of service, and so on, make sure that your vendor checks the background of all its employees. After all, you'll be letting them into the center of your corporate nervous system.

Make sure they don't use any proprietary agents or chemicals but do use HEPA filters on all their vacuums. Make sure they're insured? and not for pennies, either. Good firms carry insurance in the millions of dollars, and it includes errors and omissions, as well as accidents. And last, don't be afraid to get detailed. Specify exactly where they'll wash, wipe, dust, rinse, and vacuum, down to the very last rack.

Moving Time

And while all this might seem like a lot to add to your already heavy plate, it only gets worse if you have to move your data center piece by piece.

Fred Latala should know. As the head of Forsythes relocation service, he runs more than 200 moves per year for names as big as Sears and Citicorp. There's a very small number of specialists, he notes. Its such a niche field.

But the few experts there are can easily justify their cost. First, they're experts at arcane questions you'll need to answer. Who understands the transportation industry and what federal tariffs mean vs. an interstate move? says Latala. What's the difference between a climatized truck and a standard moving truck, and who are the authorized high-value electronics carriers that wont void your warranty from IBM?

What's more, few of your staff will have ever moved a data center before, a task that leaves no room for error. One lost tape or one damaged server can mean thousands (or even millions) in downtime.

Its also a field that can easily bog you down. If I'm a CIO, says Latala, I don't want to train people at being good at moving data centers. Id rather invest my time and money in training on new technologies.

The Right Stuff

But finding the right expert to smooth your move can be hard.

Too many people call themselves specialists, and too few of them have the resume to prove it. Latala, who's been moving data centers for years, notes that you cant learn his trade unless you work in it. Forsythe has its own internal relocation certification, but its an impressive exception in a field that's otherwise wholly unregulated.

As are data center design and cleaning, for that matter, which means that one rule applies above all when choosing a vendor in any of these fields: Choose carefully. You'd rather hear buyer beware as a word of caution at the start of a project than as a dressing down from your boss at the end of one.

by David Garrett

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