Data Centers

Essentials to take when visiting a data center

This seven-point checklist of what IT consultants should take to a data center will help them reduce delays and return trips to the office.

After parking at the third-party data center, clearing the entry gate by flashing a magnetic badge, entering a biometric-protected door, and then keying in a special code at yet another checkpoint, you're finally ready to unlock the server cabinet. Then it hits you -- you've forgotten necessary tools or equipment. You're already pressed for time (technology consultants usually are), so the resulting delay is exponentially more frustrating.

The next time you head to the land of raised floors, redundant Internet and electricity, and immaculately climate-controlled environs, perform a quick mental review of this list to help avoid having to return to the office and repeat the security clearance procedures all over:

  • Ethernet cables. You never have enough Ethernet cables, so take more than you need. Inevitably, you'll forget a CSU/DSU, WAN port, LAN bridge, NIC team, or other connection requiring the simplest of technology: a standard Ethernet patch cable.
  • A power strip. You're likely already using the data center's conditioned electricity, but do you have any power outlets left? I've consumed entire bricks when leasing just a half rack. Do yourself a favor and ensure you have access to necessary power outlets, especially in an age when manufacturers frequently deploy router, external hard disk, and other accessory power cords that block multiple outlets on standard power bars.
  • A labeler. Documentation is critical, especially in a data center where it's difficult to tell the difference between 12 Dell R410s mounted one on top of the other. It's critical that each bezel be labeled as to its function (SQL, Web, DC, EXCH01, etc.). Without a labeler on hand, the task is often overlooked.
  • A laptop. Most data centers provide a crash cart, and often that's all you need. But when struggling to test remote connectivity, performance bottlenecks, inbound/outbound email, and myriad other challenges, a laptop in the data center is often worth its weight in gold.
  • Double-sided Velcro loops. Depending upon the server cage, you may find inadequate to no cable management. Zip ties are for amateurs; if you make a mistake or forget to connect an external hard disk's power and data cables, you may have to recut and retie a half-dozen zip ties. You should use double-sided Velcro loops instead to make cable management a much friendlier task.
  • A multitool. A full toolkit would likely be overkill, but you may need to cut the tape on a box, slice open blister packs, tighten Philips or standard screws, or perform a host of similar operations. A standard multitool can typically accommodate all of these tasks.
  • Software license keys. Few self-respecting technology professionals carry installation media into a data center. Frequently, the OS is already installed; all that remains is to mount the servers or install network equipment and fire it up. But when having to load Exchange, SQL, EHR applications, and unlimited other third-party applications (most of which can be downloaded from volume licensing websites or manufacturers' portals), that's not always true with registration keys. Ensure you have the necessary licensing and activation information handy.

What items do you pack?

When racking new servers, performing server maintenance, replacing or updating routers, and performing other common data center and colo tasks, what equipment and supplies do you take on-site? Post your list of critical items below.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

17 comments
hbdgaf83
hbdgaf83

Compact mirror Have you ever been in a space that is too tight and you can't see behind or underneath? Hard to read serial numbers backwards but for just seeing in the hard to get places. Magnifying glass with light Again to be able to see some small serial number or even items on a motherboard.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Yes, you are spot on with the flashlight recommendation. I was in a data center last week, deep in a rack trying to read a serial number and you guessed it: couldn't. A small Maglite now goes with me whenever I visit the data center.

Jesus Bolivar
Jesus Bolivar

I always bring a USB HDD with ISOs of every piece of software I could ever need, they install faster and you don't have to rely on the customer having the original media.

biancaluna
biancaluna

When I was still a young solution coordinator, we did something called engineering solutions and site readiness assessments - some of the items mentioned in the list should be checklisted, particularly cables and power supplies. I used to have gloves, pants, static electricity aprons, warm jacket, phone list, camera, drives, tools, cable ties, first aid kit and duct tape in my car if my engineers were doing something and I popped round at 3am to see how they were progressin with the core switch replacement. And of course a supply of burgers. If I had to go out to the desert (did a lot of work for mining) fly spray and mozzie net, emergency supplies, medicine kit and clean undies. Ah those were the good ol'e days.

JamesinIT
JamesinIT

Especially if you have a lot of racks that aren't tool less. A pair of clamps comes in handy too if you need to put in a rack and you are by yourself

nonimportantname
nonimportantname

You should make it a chore to do some "refresh" runs, that is, taking supplies over there every once in a while when needed. Add to that list x-cables, rolled cables, a cell phone with a no flash camera option (I know, I know, cameras are prohibited most places, but...)

doug
doug

Sometimes bringing an external hard drive is a good idea. Certainly data can be downloaded or uploaded across the WAN. However, being physically there presents a great opportunity that should not be wasted.

dan
dan

gotta be a coat... how many times have i been left standing there for w hole day with the cooling either blowing up my trouser leg or onto the top of my head... even working at the back of the cab where its a bit warmer doesn't always do it..

fitzpat_e
fitzpat_e

It's a good idea to carry some spare cage nuts and bolts - They're handy for those times when you are moving a device in a rack and the bolt falls down through the vent grate....oh yes, many times! Magentic screwdriver is handy also.

OurITLady
OurITLady

My memory is notoriously bad and since I do most communication by email or speedial I don't remember most phone numbers these days. I've frequently got to site, realized I need the help of a third party vendor/supplier and had to play track down the number - you know the game where you call person A to get the number of person B who has the number for person C who is actually the one you need. I've started to learn to look up the prime providers for the main services on site and check their contact details before I head out, just in case...........unfortunately I haven't completely learned the lesson just yet.

z9ksborg
z9ksborg

don't forget your flashlight and measuring tape. a measuring tape with the 'rack-unit' is nice to have.

jfuller05
jfuller05

I would go to a location and forget to bring extra cat cable. I wouldn't forget my toolkit that included network tools, but somehow I would forget the cat cable. After forgetting a handful of times I now know to carry extra cable with me. :) I would add a modem to the list. I know that might not happen often, but it happened to me once. We carry extra dsl modems with us when we go to a location and that just happened to be the problem: a dead modem.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

The recommendation to bring a compact mirror and magnifying glass is, in fact, an outstanding idea. More than once I've had trouble reading serial numbers and service tags in darkened server cabinets. Good tip!

jfuller05
jfuller05

I always take my external hard drive with me just in case.

robo_dev
robo_dev

I swear sometimes they must be keeping some hidden keg of beer cold for the night-shift operations workers, since it is soooooo cold.

robo_dev
robo_dev

I did not know those existed. duhh (palm-forehead slap)