A look at what goes on in data centers

Summary:Cloud services are ramping up, with companies like Amazon and Google extending their content hosting services to include music and mobile devices now added to the mix.The increasing reliance on cloud underscores the role data centers play in ensuring services delivered over the Web are available and accessible at all times.

Cloud services are ramping up, with companies like Amazon and Google extending their content hosting services to include music and mobile devices now added to the mix.

The increasing reliance on cloud underscores the role data centers play in ensuring services delivered over the Web are available and accessible at all times.

I invited this week's Tech Podium guest blogger, T. Rajan, to provide some insights on what goes on behind the scenes in managing a data center.

Rajan, technical director at Basis Bay Properties, is a certified electrical engineer and has over 20 years of experience in building services design and consulting. He has spent the past five years specializing in data center design with Basis Bay, helping to design, build and operate the company's Tier III and Tier IV data centers in Cyberjaya and Glenmarie, Malaysia.

Established in Malaysia in1996, Basis Bay currently has direct presence in 11 locations across Asia-Pacific and Europe including Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Its clientele includes organizations from the financial services industries such as banks and insurance companies. The company operates several data centers including the 70,000 square feet, Tier IV facility located in Cyberjaya, which offers network operation center (NOC), co-location and disaster recovery services, among others.

The day-to-day running of a data center in the present economic situation is challenging enough to push the capabilities of managers and administrators to the maximum and ensure that the facility is operating according to industry best practices.

The emergence of competitors and new data center players in the Asian region has pushed the efficiency bar further a notch to keep data centers operating and delivering at the optimal level. Expectations are as high as operating a five-star hotel.

My experience in managing Basis Bay's data center facility starts from my involvement in the construction of the data center from ground zero through to the management of its operations. There is a fine line that separates IT and facilities management, and sometimes they do occasionally overlap, causing confusion. Hence, it is best to identify and segregate upfront tasks related to IT from tasks related to facility management prior to starting your business operations.

The existence of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for operating a data center must be in place for all who are involved in the operations. Emphasis should be on providing maximum security with regard to entry into the facility by identifying every customer--internal and external--vendor, contractor as well as employee that has this access. Accessibility to the data center itself should be monitored separately from the facility and privy only to the designated resources.

The daily operations involve managing individual SLA (service level agreement) that has been committed to customers, be it internal or external, and making sure that power to IT equipment is monitored 24-7 with the proper management tools such as the building management system, environmental monitoring system and central monitoring system. The consumption of power is crucial to determine that power to the IT equipment is sufficient under any circumstance, and this is easily done by performing a quick daily, weekly and monthly threshold reading of available power from the UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and the utility company.

Cooling the data center environment is equally important and like power consumption, it must be monitored round-the-clock and ensured that the operating temperature and humidity are within the acceptable range. Hot spots are a real challenge and without the proper tools it is not possible to identify them all.

At Basis Bay, we ensure that the "hot aisle/cold aisle" configuration is deployed at all times to maximize cooling of the servers. We also check that the access floor is free from obstacles that may be preventing the necessary cold air from being delivered to the respective IT equipment. We encountered these problems recently and performed some minor adjustments to eliminate this problem, both above and below the raised flooring.

High density racks need to be treated differently, as they require more cooling than the standard low-density racks, via the deployment of higher-percentage perforated floor boards with damper control.

It is also advisable to check the air-flow coming out through these floor boards simply by placing a measurement object over the board and raising it slowly to see how far the air is blowing up into the racks.

The issues I highlighted are different from other data centers as I discovered during my assessment of our other facilities in the region where, for example, "hot spots" might be caused by other factors and require additional monitoring such as checking whether the CRAC (computer room air conditioner) unit is working to its maximum capacity.

The facility team has to conduct preventive maintenance on all mechanical and electrical equipment on a regular basis, while ensuring that the data center is managed properly. The cooperation between the IT and facility departments must be seamless while, concurrently, executives at the management level including the CIO, CFO and CEO should be advised accordingly.

Topics: Hardware, Data Centers, Data Management, Networking, Storage


Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 15 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings. Eileen majored i... Full Bio

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