Setting up a server room, part 1: The basics

Setting up a server room is a serious endeavor. That's why it's so important that you plan ahead. In this first part of a series on setting up server rooms, Dallas Releford discusses the basics of planning ahead for your server room.

Few computer systems administrators realize how important it is to plan ahead before they set up a server room. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t think so, but planning ahead will save you a great deal of time and frustration in the long run. But don’t worry! I’m going to show you how to set up your server room.

Think about your space requirements
It seems obvious, but from personal experience, I’ve learned to remind administrators that their plans should revolve around their needs. What do you need now? And what will you need in the future? For instance, right now, you may want to put all of your equipment in a 12x14 closet, but how much space will you need in five years? Obviously, it’s practical and cost-effective to know how much space you’ll need in the future, but planning ahead also gives you much more room to work with now.

Once you figure out how much space you need, you’ll have to convince your supervisors that your estimates are correct and practical. First, you ought to sit down with your supervisors and show them just how many employees and pieces of equipment you have to house right now. Then, you need to tell them where you think you’ll be in five or ten years. Tell them how much it will cost to expand in the future. Ten years from now, the cost of construction and equipment will be much higher. Remind them that, if you have to move any equipment to another location, you’ll have to adjust the cabling, too. The key point to make is that, in the long run, you’ll save the company money if you can take these steps now. If you can give them figures and hard data, you’ll probably be successful.

Find the right location
One of the most important steps of designing a server room is finding an appropriate location. Let me illustrate this point with a negative example. I worked for a company that was located in a three-story building. On the roof of this building was a smaller structure, which was air-conditioned and secluded. The computer services manager immediately decided that he wanted to work in the building on the roof so that he wouldn’t be interrupted too often. It seems like a good idea, doesn't it? Well, not really, as he quickly discovered. Every time someone called, he had to waste time in transit to get to his most valuable resource: his clients. Furthermore, the cost of cabling was very high.

You can avoid many problems by choosing a centralized location in your building. The best location would be on the first floor close to the administration offices. You’ll probably communicate with those folks more than with anyone else. Of course, other clients are also important, but you’ll certainly spend a great deal of time in meetings with administrative personnel. Remember, the more quickly you respond to the needs of your clients, the more popular you’re going to become. With a centralized location, you’ll spend less time in transit while you’re making service calls. You’ll also save a lot of money on the cabling system if you’re centrally located. You’ll have shorter cables to run. Consequently, you’ll have less maintenance, less hardware (such as routers), and less mapping to worry about.

Let’s not forget appearances, either. Nowadays, the computer department is one of the most important parts of any business. You’ll want to look like you’re right in the middle of things. If you’re isolated, then people may not know how to contact you, and they may try to fix problems on their own. Even worse, they may just ignore problems and try to work around them. Doing so often leads to bigger problems.

Make the server room off-limits
Some system managers want to be isolated because they don’t want employees to have access to the computer room. For some reason, employees tend to congregate in the computer room. Sometimes, they feel more comfortable when they notify you of a problem personally; sometimes, they just stop by for a chat. Of course, the best solution is to make the computer room off-limits to everyone except IT personnel. You can control access to the computer room by installing a security keypad or a card-access system. You can still maintain contact with your clients by setting up an e-mail system. That way, clients can e-mail their problems to you.

Control the environment of the server room
The room where you keep your computer equipment must be free from static, magnetic disturbances, and electrical emanations from transformers and fluorescent lights. You should place a static pad near the entrance of the room. That way, employees can discharge themselves before they enter the room. Employees who work in this room must know how to use static protection devices. For obvious reasons, the room should have air conditioning, and it should be kept clean and free from dust. Keep the temperature at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you have a lot of equipment, you may need to keep it slightly cooler.) Computer equipment isn’t as susceptible to dust as it used to be, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Usually, filters in the air system will keep dust out of the room.

In most states, you’ll have to meet certain requirements that your local fire department has set up. You may have to seal the server room if a fire breaks out. In such instances, the door will lock automatically, and the room will become airtight. Then, a fire-retardant gas will spray into the room and put the fire out quickly. Exercise extreme caution during these situations: This method protects your equipment, but any employees who remain in the room may be injured or even killed. Thus, it’s very important to keep unauthorized people out of the server room and to train all employees in matters of safety. Fortunately, these rooms have switches that release the safety lock if someone gets caught in the room during a fire.

I’ve examined some of the basic points that you must consider when you’re planning a server room. Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue my series and discuss other issues that you must understand before you set up a server room.

Dallas G. Releford has worked in the computer field as a programmer, a MIS manager, and a PC specialist, among other related positions. Additionally, he has written a novel, which was published on the Internet. That novel gave him an interest in the electronic publishing field. He also writes articles, electronic books, and just about anything else that involves the written word. To learn more about Dallas’ business, visit his Web site, which is called The Editor’s Eye .

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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