Data Center Governance: Managing Physical Space

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Jerry Gentry is a data center industry analyst for Nemertes Reserch.

Data center governance is a specific discipline. It is not the project management governance that brings more demand for DC services. Nor is it the audit and compliance governance that provides you policies for operation. It is the process by which you manage the physical space of your data center.

Let’s be honest. No one is perfect. It doesn’t take more than a couple of “rush” jobs with cabling or racking shortcuts or lack of documentation to start the whole data center’s governance going downhill. Considering that we’ve all slipped, it can be pretty demoralizing to look out across the raised floor and know what is hidden behind the cabinet doors and floor tiles. Seems like you can never get it fixed once the chain of governance is broken.

How do you get ahead of it?

The first step in getting somewhere you want to be is to know where you are.

I propose an honest assessment using some simple and easily measured criteria. Create a simple survey instrument, covering specific points of governance compliance and asking for a rating from 1 to 5, where 1 is no conformity and 5 is total compliance. For example, “Servers are connected through patch panels to end-of-row switch ports.” Staff, each based on their own knowledge of the realities of the data center – that maybe some servers are connected to a top-of-rack switch in the rack that came in with a special project, or run right to the proper switch because the patch panel was full.

You are getting a subjective rating, which makes the exercise easier to do but requires a little analysis and follow up. Ask the techs and the data center managers to fill out the instrument anonymously and then do some simple statistics around the answers. If most of the answers within a category are toward one side or the other, then you can take an average as a decent representation of the rating. If the answers are widely distributed, then you may need to do some further clarification to make sure people understood what you were looking for, or may have to break up one question into several to focus in on problems in specific areas that maybe not everyone knows about. Depending on the sample size, having one or two outliers isn’t a big issue. Remember, this is a qualitative exercise, it isn’t providing you any feedback other than to see where the most commonly viewed trouble areas are.

What should you be looking at? Here are some recommendations, but feel free to augment the elements to suit your specific environment. This will work equally well for private and colocated data centers.

From Outside

Before you even go into the DC, assess the inventory by rating the following statements:

  • Every device is in the inventory.
  • Every application is known.
  • Every application’s host servers are known.
  • Every application owner is known and documented.
  • Storage location for all data types is known.
  • Escalation trees for event response are documented.
  • Data management for inventory is a documented process

Look Up, Then Look Down

Above and below the floor are three types of cabling: power, data networks, and telephony. In my experience the management of cable is one of the most difficult and neglected aspects of DC governance. You’ve probably seen the situation where the raised floor is of no use for pushing air because it is so clogged with abandoned cables.

  • All cables are labeled according to your DC and cable standard (assuming you have one).
  • All cables are routed in a manner that will allow easy access and maintenance or recovery if they need to be removed.
  • Abandoned cables have been removed or marked for identification.
  • There orthogonal crossovers or separate parallel paths when power and telephony cables meet.
  • There are prescribed pathways for cable runs that are adhered to when installation and removal is being performed.

What’s In Front of You?

With all the cabinet doors closed things might look nice and orderly. Have the doors opened and look for the following:

  • All cabinets/racks, devices and locations are labeled front and back
  • All devices are mounted correctly and to manufacturer spec.
  • Internal cabinet cabling is routed consistently and tied down correctly
  • The power distribution within the cabinet is marked and mounted correctly.
  • The receptacle types are marked and in the appropriate outlet.
  • Open rack spaces are clear and accessible.

In Part Two of Data Center Governance, we will outline some approaches that will help you begin to resolve issues identified by this kind of survey and assessment. It will take time, but be well worth it.

To get more useful data center management strategies from Nemertes Research download the Q1 2012 Data Center Knowledge Guide to Enterprise Data Centers.

About the Author

Jerry Gentry is a research analyst for Nemertes Research.

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One Comment

  1. I'm very glad to see you write about this, Jerry. It's a subject close to my heart. In my experience, my Clients are usually either a 2 or a 5. They're either pretty good at governance and operational ethic, or they're catch as catch can.