By Rich Schiesser in conjunction with the Enterprise Computing

If we were to ask typical infrastructure managers to name
the major elements of facilities management, they would likely mention common
items such as air conditioning, electrical power, and perhaps fire suppression.
Some may also mention smoke detection, uninterruptible power supplies, and
controlled physical access. Few of them would likely include less common
entities such as electrical grounding, vault protection, and static
electricity, among others.

Here’s a comprehensive list of the major elements of
facilities management:

  • Air
  • Humidity
  • Electrical
  • Static
  • Electrical
  • Uninterruptible
    Power Supply (UPS)
  • Backup
    UPS batteries
  • Backup
  • Water
  • Smoke
  • Fire
  • Facility
    monitoring with alarms
  • Earthquake
  • Safety
  • Supplier
  • Controlled
    physical access
  • Protected
  • Physical
  • Classified

Temperature and humidity levels should be monitored
constantly, either electronically or with recording charts, and reviewed once
each shift to detect any unusual trends. Electrical power includes continuous
supply at the proper voltage, current, phasing and the conditioning of the
power. Conditioning purifies the quality of the electricity for greater
reliability. It involves filtering out stray magnetic fields that can induce
unwanted inductance, doing the same to stray electric fields that can generate
unwanted capacitance, and providing surge suppression to prevent voltage spikes.
Static electricity affecting the operation of sensitive equipment can build up
in conductive materials such as carpeting, clothing, draperies and other
non-insulating fibers. Anti-static devices can be installed to minimize this
condition. Proper grounding is required to eliminate outages, and potential
human injury, due to short circuits. Another element sometimes overlooked is
whether UPS batteries are kept fully charged.

Water and smoke detection are common environmental guards in
today’s data centers as is fire suppression mechanisms. Facility monitoring
systems and their alarms should visible and audible enough to be seen and heard
from most any area in the computer room and when noisy equipment such as
printers are running at their loudest. Equipment should be anchored and secured
to withstand moderate earthquakes. Large mainframes decades ago used to be
safely anchored, in part, by the massive plumbing for water-cooled processors
and by the huge bus and tag cables, which interconnected the various units. In
today’s era of fiber optic cables, air-cooled processors and smaller boxes
designed for non-raised flooring, this built-in anchoring of equipment is no
longer as prevalent.  

Emergency preparedness for earthquakes and other natural or
man-made disasters should be a basic part of general safety training for all
personnel working inside a data center. They should be knowledgeable on
emergency powering off, evacuation procedures, first-aid assistance and
emergency telephone number. Managing data center suppliers in these matters is
also recommended.

Most data centers have acceptable methods of controlling
physical access into their machine rooms, but not always for vaults or rooms
that store sensitive documents, check stock, or tapes. The physical location of
a data center can also be problematic. A basement level may be safe and secure
from the outside but be exposed to water leaks and evacuation obstacles,
particularly in older buildings. Locating a data center along outside walls of
a building can sometimes contribute to sabotage from the outside. Classified
environments almost always require data centers to be located as far away from
outside walls as possible to safeguard them from outside physical forces such
as bombs or projectiles, and from electronic sensing devices.  

h2>Major physical exposures common to a data denter

Most operations managers do a reasonable job at keeping
their data centers up and running. Many shops go for years without a
experiencing a major outage specifically caused by the physical environment. But
the infrequent nature of these types of outages can often lull managers into a
false sense of security and lead them to overlook the risks to which they may
be exposed. Here are the most common of these:

  • Physical
    wiring diagrams out-of-date
  • Logical
    equipment configuration diagrams and schematics out-of-date
  • Infrequent
    testing of UPS
  • Failure
    to re-charge UPS batteries
  • Failure
    to test generator and fuel levels
  • Lack
    of preventive maintenance on air conditioning equipment
  • Announciator system not tested
  • Fire
    suppression system not recharged
  • Emergency
    power-off system not tested
  • Emergency
    power-off system not documented
  • Infrequent
    testing of backup generator system
  • Equipment
    not properly anchored
  • Evacuation
    procedures not clearly documented
  • Circumvention
    of physical security procedures
  • Lack
    of effective training to appropriate personnel

The older the data center, the greater these exposures
become. I have had clients who collectively have experienced at least half of
these exposures during the past three years. Many of their data centers were
less than ten years old.

Preventative maintenance, testing, inspections or any
combination of these should occur at a minimum of once a year. I have worked
with some shops who have annual maintenance contracts
in place for their physical facilities, including onsite inspections, but
choose not to exercise them. Un-tested safeguards, un-inspected equipment,
undocumented procedures and un-trained staff are all preventable invitations to

Tips to improve the facilities management process

There are a number of simple actions that can be taken to
improve the facilities management process. Here are some tips:

  • Nurture
    relationships with facilities department.
  • Establish
    relationships with local government inspecting agencies, especially if
    considering major physical upgrades to the data center.
  • Consider
    use of video cameras to enhance physical security.
  • Analyze
    environmental monitoring reports to identify trends, patterns and
  • Check
    on effectiveness of water and fire detection and suppression systems.
  • Remove
    all tripping hazards in a computer center.
  • Check
    on earthquake preparedness of data center. (devices anchored down,
    training of personnel, tie-in to disaster recovery)

Establishing good relationships with key support departments
such as the facilities department and local government inspecting agencies can
help keep maintenance and expansion plans on schedule. This can also lead to a
greater understanding of what the infrastructure group can do to enable both of
these agencies to better serve the IT department.

Video cameras have been around for a long time to enhance
and streamline physical security. Occasionally overlooked is the quality of the
tape, the recording and the playback mechanism to ensure playback is possible. These
should all be periodically checked. Another item to check is the environmental
recording device. Many of these are quite sophisticated and collect a wealth of
data about temperature, humidity, purity of air, hazardous vapors and other
environmental measurements. The data is only as valuable as the effort expended
to analyze it for trends, patterns and relationships. A reasonably thorough
analysis should be done on this type of data quarterly.

In my experience, most shops do a good job at periodically
testing their backup electrical systems such as UPS, batteries, generators, and
power distribution units (PDUs), but less so on fire
detection and suppression systems. This is partly due to the huge capital
investment electrical backup systems require, and managers wanting to ensure a
return on such a sizable outlay of cash. Maintenance contracts for these
systems frequently include inspection and testing, at least at the outset. But
this is seldom the case with fire detection and suppression systems. Infrastructure
personnel need to be proactive in this regard by insisting on regularly
scheduled inspection and maintenance of these systems. This also includes
up-to-date evacuation plans.

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