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.

By Erik Eckel

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...