Professional Labeling Essential to Data Center Security and Audit Compliance

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Craig Robinson manages sales and business development for the P-touch EDGE industrial labeling division at Brother Mobile Solutions, a provider of on-demand mobile printing and labeling products for professional contractors and installers of data centers and other telecom/datacom infrastructures.

Craig-Robinson_tnCRAIG ROBINSON
Brother Mobile Solutions

Large data centers are repositories for some of the most mission-critical information in the cyberworld today. For this reason, there are legal and regulatory compliance requirements mandating effective data center configuration and asset management across a wide range of closely regulated industries.

Data centers owned by banks, financial management firms, utilities and energy companies, defense contractors, government agencies, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, airlines and other transportation providers, for example, have strict compliance requirements linked to configuration and asset management of their DCs. And often their compliance must be validated through quality assurance audits with oversight by a third-party.

Quality Assurance Audits

According to one executive with extensive experience in overseeing internal / external DC audit reviews: “Up to 90 percent failure rate on audit reviews are due to improper labeling of the vast array of DC components, which include cables and wires, servers, storage components, power panels and more. Lack of professional, standards-based labeling directly ties into a DC’s configuration management and record-keeping capabilities, especially its ability to re-configure assets in the event of a catastrophic failure, such as fire, flood, or earthquake. If you can’t identify the 100,000 or so components and their exact location, you can put the enterprise at operational risk.”

The only way a DC can recover from a partial or total failure is to create a permanent record showing where everything is located and how the components are configured, so the arrangement can be accurately reconstructed. In addition, since an organization’s DC is a critical part of its information infrastructure, it is never static but continues to change, necessitating frequent moves, adds and changes (MACs). This means the permanent record of the DC configuration must also be dynamically maintained and updated to reflect the current status.

Professional Labeling Standards

The ANSI/TIA 606-B.1 Standard for identification and labeling provides clear specifications for labeling and administrative best practices across all networked systems classes, including large data centers. While not mandatory, these guidelines help professional contractors and installers ensure quality assurance for the long term.

The purpose of implementing and maintaining a durable, end-to-end labeling scheme throughout the DC infrastructure is to accelerate tracing and initiate problem-solving measures as quickly as possible to avoid costly downtime. It also helps to future-proof the installation by providing an accurate blueprint should the entire configuration need to be recreated―an unlikely scenario, but one that must be considered.

Among the Standard’s general guidelines are that text on the labels should be machine-generated and visible, and that all cables and pathways should be labeled at both ends for ease of tracing from either direction.

The labels used should meet the UL969 specification for legibility, defacement and adhesion. This means they should be rugged, tamper and smear-resistant and able to withstand environmental conditions such as heat, moisture and ultraviolet light. And, they should have a design life equal to or greater than that of the labeled components. Lastly, keeping and maintaining accurate records is of paramount importance, with identifier information stored in a permanent record and backed up securely by the facility’s administration.

The labeling standards may sound complicated, but in reality they are not. In today’s marketplace, you can find next-generation industrial labeling tools that incorporate smart technology, intuitive navigation and versatile functionality to help make DC component identification and labeling relatively quick and easy to implement.

What to Look for in Smart Labeling Tools

Best-in-class industrial-grade handheld labeling tools will be ruggedly constructed and ergonomically designed to comfortably handle the rigors of large installations. Many contractors prefer thermal printers that can format and print a variety of conforming label types up to 24mm or 36mm wide using easy-to-load, snap-in tape cartridges. Durable UL-approved polyester laminated labels encapsulate the print between two protective layers to ensure long-term integrity, legibility and adhesion.

Some intelligent labeling tools feature PC connectivity options and built-in software that allow users to download and store data from common databases. They also allow for on-site download and printing of previously saved custom or pre-formatted label templates, as well as previously programmed Alpha/numeric serialized labels. These capabilities can dramatically increase labeling speed and productivity in the field.

Additional features to look for include:

  • QWERTY-style keyboard for fast, easy input and formatting
  • Large, backlit LCD display with drop-down menus of label design settings
  • Fast printing speed (up to 1.2 ips) and automated cutting of labels to the desired size
  • Optimized character font shaping and print positioning for high-quality, easy-to-read text, symbols and barcodes
  • Ability to accept HGe and TZe tapes, as well as heat shrink tubing (HSe) to produce permanent heat shrink labels quickly and economically

While asset management and labeling are only part of a successful data center installation, it is clear that they play an important role in ensuring maximum uptime and audit compliance, as well as the long-term performance, security and reliability of the facility and its components.

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