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The Top 10 Data Center Annoyances

By Kenneth Hess (Send Email)
Posted Sep 9, 2010


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If you've spent some time working in a contemporary data center, your mind might occasionally drift to the thought that Darwinism never made the great leap from plants and fish to data center designers. Design is supposed to evolve toward efficiency and order. Instead, it remains firmly cemented in the past with well-established roots in the communications industry. This list of 10 data center annoyances is a call to the future -- a call for new design -- a call for evolution.

Data center work can be cold and lonely, but does it also have to be annoying?

It's time to toss out those traditions and replace them with something that works. But, it isn't all about technology. Some of the evolution in the data center requires people to walk upright as well: Remember, it isn't a cave in which we dwell, it's a data center.

1. Housekeeping

Have you ever seen the sign that reads, "Your mother doesn't work here, clean up after yourself"? Before you disengage from a work area, clean up after yourself. Close any open cabinet doors (front and back), return tools to their owner or to the tool bin, and remove any trash you feel compelled to leave in cabinets or walkways. Please leave work areas clean and tidy. Your mother doesn't work here.

2. ILO Setup

For those who must make the arduous trek into the data center, remember to set up the ILO (Integrated Lights Out) ports for all systems that you touch. ILO allows your remotely located colleagues the unique opportunity to work on those systems without the arduous trek. It also makes supporting those systems much easier. For the uninitiated, ILO allows you to control a system as if you had access to the console, including power-off and power-on capabilities.

3. Theft

You'd think that with secure doors, retina scanners and cameras everywhere, data center theft wouldn't exist. You'd be wrong to think that. Your security paranoia should follow you into the data center. If you find you've misplaced an important piece of equipment or someone has helped you misplace it, report the missing equipment to data center security personnel. They can track all personnel who have entered and exited the data center to help you narrow down your search.

4. Lighting

A "dim" data center looks great on paper, but have you ever tried to work in one? Often, the only light that you have to work with is that which emanates from the network ports on your servers. Data center cabinet manufacturers need a rack design that includes lights. A few well-placed LEDs would make data center kneeling down for the bottom-mounted server that much more enjoyable.

5. Hot Aisle/Cold Aisle

The concept of hot aisle/cold aisle is an interesting one -- interesting but ill-conceived. You'll understand the problem when you work in the hot aisle. You have hundreds of fans blowing hot air on you, while you're trying to work on a system that, inevitably, is at or near the bottom of a very crowded rack. Like dim lighting, hot aisle/cold aisle works great on paper but far less great in the actual data center.

6. Crash Carts

A crash cart is the roll-around keyboard/video/mouse and tools cart seen in data centers. They're usually located at the intersection of inconvenient and nowhere-to-be-found. When you find an unused one, thank your personal deities that you've located it. Hopefully, you'll finish your appointed tasks with it before someone else helps themselves to that single elusive cart. The simple solution is to have more than one crash cart per data center. Monitors, keyboards, mice, screwdrivers and roll-around carts are inexpensive enough to have more than one.

7. Noise

In the data center, no one can hear you scream. Seriously, it's so loud that you have to either scream at your colleagues or walk outside to hold a conversation. And, you can forget using a cell phone -- no one wants to yell loud enough for you to hear the request to pick up some milk on your way home. Server and cabinet manufacturers must learn how to build silent fans.

8. Floor Plates

Stepping on loose floor plates in a dimly lit data center is an annoyance. For a moment, you don't know if you're going to go knee-deep into a sub-floor cable abyss or tumble headlong into a row of cabinets. Report loose floor plates to your data center management staff. Loose or broken plates should be repaired or replaced immediately.

9. Rack Space

Although the original logic for designing computer equipment for 19-inch racks is lost in the annals of history, that logic could use some updating. Or, perhaps server design needs some adjustment. If you are a normal-sized human, you'll find working with smaller format (1U and 2U) systems to be less than enjoyable in crowded racks. There just isn't enough space to work at the rear of the system where you find the power, network, SAN, video and keyboard cables. The current design isn't conducive to prolonged periods of work that requires manual dexterity.

10. Wires

Does anyone else think that we're beyond wires here in the latter part of 2010? It's time for new technology that doesn't require a wire for everything. Data centers have too much wiring. When you see cable bundles as thick as a human thigh and concentrator panels with hundreds of cable connections, it's time for a technology change. Going wireless in the data center is a good plan -- not just for networking but for everything.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which was published in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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