Tech & Work

Setting up your server room, part 2: Organizing everything with spreadsheets

Dallas Releford continues his series on setting up a server room. This week, he explains how important it is to organize everything—from hardware and software to manuals and supplies. Read on for Dallas' simple solution to this daunting task.

Running an IT department can become very intimidating. It’s easy for things to spin out of control. If you slack off, your department will become a mess eventually. The secret to staying organized is to keep on top of everything. In “Setting up your server room, part 1: The basics,” I introduced you to the fundamentals of implementing a server room. This week, I’ll discuss some elements in the server environment that can create problems, and I’ll show you how to use inventory lists and spreadsheets to manage your server room. These spreadsheets won't solve all of your problems, but they’ll help you keep everything organized.

If you have a lot of software, you need to store it in a safe place. Obviously, the most secure place would be in a safe; if you don't have a safe, however, a closet will suffice. Organize and place your software in storage cases so that you can locate something that you need quickly. You won't have time to search through a pile of disks and CDs when your system crashes or when another emergency arises.

First, you must catalogue your software. Sort through each piece of software and write down the title, manufacturer, ISBN or serial number, type of media (CD or disk), date purchased, type of software, and a brief descriptive note. You can categorize your software by type, using such categories as database, programming, systems, and word-processing. That way, you can find something if you know the type of software that you’re looking for. (If you have multiple safes or storage closets, then you may want to include another column for location.) When you’re finished, your inventory list will look similar to the one shown in Table A.

Table A
Program Media type Vendor ISBN or serial # Date of purchase
Microsoft Word CD Microsoft XX4476az 05/25/97
Windows 2000 CD Microsoft ARSZ4522211 07/10/00
Red Hat Linux 6.2 CD RedHat Xpd44568 05/10/00

When was the last time that you counted the number of computers in your company? Well, you’d certainly need to know this number if all of your company’s computers crashed at the same time. You should be able to use Excel and open a spreadsheet that contains information about every piece of computer hardware in your company. Your hardware inventory list should contain the name of each item, serial numbers (or other identification numbers), the date when each item was purchased, when and where each item was installed, current users, and short descriptive comment. Your hardware inventory list should look similar to the one shown in Table B.

Table B
Item Serial # Date of purchase Type of equipment Present status Current user
Computer Xz33333x 06/14/98 586/400 Server B. Walker
Printer AOS22 10/22/99 Laser Server Accounting

If you have very many manuals, how-to books, or magazines at the office, then you’ll want to organize them, too. Otherwise, you’ll lose track of them. You ought to set up some shelves or a library and arrange all of your published materials by item. Magazines would sit on one shelf, where they would be arranged by date, and books and manuals would sit on another shelf, where they would be arranged by subject. That way, you would be able to find important information when you needed it. Your inventory list for published materials will look much like the first two tables. Table C contains a sample inventory list that you might find useful.

Table C
Title ISBN # Subject Publisher Contact
Win-Pak XXX43333 Access control users manual Northern Computers 1-800-455-4533
MSWord XPD00333 User manual MSWord Microsoft

If you’re responsible for purchasing supplies for the computer department, then you need to create another inventory list. Maintain as low an inventory as you can and stock your supplies on clearly marked shelves. You’ll need to keep track of each item from the time that you order it until it arrives. When you put the items on the shelves, you need to label them and record how many of each item you received. That way, you can keep track of your stock, and you can control your costs. (You should include another column for contact information if you know that you’ll have to place additional orders.) You’ll need to create an inventory sheet like the one in Table D.

Table D
Item(s) Date ordered Date received Purchase price Quantity on hand
Paper 06/25/00 07/12/00 $17.00 2 boxes
Inkjet 10/12/00 11/01/00 $12.00 12 units
Pens 10/12/00 10/20/00 $7.00 per dozen 2 dozen
With each of these inventory lists, you should conserve as much space as possible. That way, you’ll keep your overall spreadsheet clear and concise.
Creating the spreadsheet
Now that you’ve catalogued all of your computer parts, books, and disks, you’re ready to put everything together. To create the spreadsheet, you must open a new worksheet in Excel. You’ll need four worksheets, so click Insert/Worksheet and add the appropriate number of worksheets. (You can double-click the right mouse button, too.) We’ll start by creating a simple spreadsheet; you can customize it when you need to make corrections or adjustments.

Next, you should rename the worksheets. Right-click on Worksheet 1 and select Rename. Name it Software. Now, rename the other worksheets; call them Hardware, Manuals, and Supplies. If any of the worksheets are out of sequence, you can drag the worksheets in question to their proper places.

Now, select the Software worksheet. (I won’t tell you how to design a spreadsheet because you should know how to do so already.) You can insert a text box for your spreadsheet’s name and any other information, but it’s easier to use the Header and Footer features. You’ll save space on the screen, and the spreadsheet won’t become cluttered. You’ll need to give each column a label (name), and you’ll want to adjust the column width so that you have enough room to work with. Once you’re done, you can adjust this feature with Print Preview | Margins. You may need to select Print Preview | Setup | Page and change the page orientation to Landscape. If you put a border around each column label, the column headings will look better. Click on the Border icon and select the outside border option. You can insert comments into each column label; doing so will remind users what the columns mean. You may want to use the comment feature for some of your cells, too.

Remember, you must keep the information on this spreadsheet current; otherwise, it will be useless. Update it whenever something changes. Success depends upon information, and the only useful information is organized information. You can use this spreadsheet to organize almost everything in your department. In the next few weeks, I’ll show you how to keep track of tasks that you assign, and I’ll discuss preventative maintenance and technical support.

Dallas G. Releford has worked in the computer field as a programmer, an MIS manager, and a PC specialist. He has written a novel, which was published on the Internet and which led him to an interest in the electronic publishing field. He 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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