Data Center much needed “hacks”

Over the years I have worked in hundreds of data centers. The number is probably closer to 1,000 than 100. Each data center has its own nuances and policies. This varies by company but can vary by data center within the same company. It can be quite the tangled mess to keep track of. As I was sitting here not able to sleep I wanted to come up with a list of some things Data Centers should do to make tenant life easier. Some of these you can do yourself, and I do for many sites. Some of these overlap, but are important to mention a few times So let’s get into it

Don’t assume your customers know what is going on
Some of us don’t visit these sites very often. Many times it’s late at night when no one is around except security. Much of this list revolves around the things we don’t know which may be common knowledge for those at the data center everyday.

Pre-visit items
Do I need to open a ticket to access my equipment? Some facilities I have to. Others I don’t.

Have a published facilites and helpline
I ran into a situation today. I was visiting a site today and had to go through a turnstyle. Come to find out I was on the wrong floor, but I did not realize that until someone came to help. My cell phone was at 5% and I had to end up calling the business development guy to get ahold of someone. Those Sales guys know everyone!

Got my cart stuck in the turnstyle

Where to Park
This may be obvious if you work at the building every day, but to the occasional visitor, this can be confusing, and potentially costly. Data centers in downtown areas really need some sort of updated information on a website outlining this. Facilities near sporting arenas are the worst. It seems you need a decoder wheel on when and where you can park before and after games. Some cities are better at marking this than others. I once had to walk 10 blocks lugging a switch because I could not park near the data center due to a football game.

What doors are open at what times
If your building has multiple entrances keep an updated list of the hours of each door. Nothing like unloading 10 switches onto a cart and finding out you are on the wrong side of the building. Can I bring carts and equipment only in a certain door or loading dock?

What to do when you enter the building

This is another obvious thing to those who use the building on a regular basis. Do you check in with the security desk first? Do you need to sign in if you have a badge? In order to help understand some of the issues, I will take you through getting to equipment at two data centers in different cities owned by different companies.

Dats Center 1
Upon entering I pass security but do not have to check in with them. I use my badge on the gates, but not the top sensor, the one on the angle facing me. Both accept badges, but my badge only works on one. After my elevator ride to the floor my equipment is on I badge in through a door. Next up is the man-trap (sorry people trap sounds dumb). I am presented with a reader with a pin pad, This pin pad is the same as many other of the data centers I visit. However, at this particular one I just swipe my card and do not enter a pin. The light on the reader flashes between red and green rapidly. I have to remember this is not an error message, but normal for this data center. I nervously open the door hoping I don’t set off any alarms. Once inside the man-trap I have another similar keypad to let me into the data center room. Swiping my badge results in the same rapidly flashing red and green and I am in the data center and can proceed to my rack.

Data Center 2
In order to gain access to the building I swipe my card at the exact same pin pad, I mentioned in the above Data Center. I have to remember at this data center I need a pin. I enter my pin and the reader beeps the light turns green. it’s important to note it does not flash like the previous pinpad at the other data center, even though it’s the same model. I can hear the door mechanism unlock. Once inside it is a similar procedure in order to get through each door until I get to my equipment. On the way out, I just swipe my badge and do not have to enter the pin. The pin is only for going through the door on the way in. The system knows you have been through that door and just is looking for your card swipe to let you out. At this data center, you do have to remember to swipe your card before you leave a door. The door will open without a card swipe but will set off alarms. This can be easy to do if you are distracted.

Other data centers make you check in with security and sign in before using your badge to go onward into the depths of the facility. Others, the building security personnel have little to do with the data center.

Also, train the building security folks to realize there are many of us who don’t visit the facility on a regular basis. I have had many a security guard ticked off about my questions on procedures.

Maps to my equipment
If each data center provided me a map of the floor where my equipment is I would probably love them forever, at least send them a Christmas card. If I could take that map and draw an “x marks the spot” type of map that would help me remember where my stuff is. If the data center provided this as part of a welcome package they might get upgraded to cookies for Christmas.

The things you don’t need to know until you need to know
Do your badges expire after so many days/weeks/months of inactivity? I have some facilities where my badge expires after 30 days of inactivity. Just about every visit to the facility involves getting my badge reactivated. It seems this procedure changes each time.

If I have equipment shipped is it only available to get out of storage at certain times?

Are there crash carts on site for keyboard, mouse, monitor? What is the procedure for getting access to those?

Go through what a customer would have to at 3am on a Tuesday night
If you are a data center, especially one that says customers have access to their equipment 24/7/365, go through some mental exercises as if you were a customer. It’s okay if you can’t do certain things during business hours only, knowing ahead of time can solve a ton of issues. Just some things a customer may go through
-It’s 3am and my server crashed. Is there a crash cart? How do I get access to that cart?
-Where do I put my cardboard and such when I am done? Do I have to carry it out with me or is there a specific place I can put it to be recycled/trashed?
-Is there wifi? If you want me to fill out a ticket to get stuff done and I have no internet due to being inside a structure that doesn’t help. Going out in the hall or even outside is not productive.

Knowing what the capabilities of the facility during different hours can really help. If a noc technician needs to escort me to the meet-me room and I can only do that during normal business hours that is something very handy to know. I am fine with that if I know ahead of time and can plan. Don’t say you are 24/7/365 and I can’t add a new device to my meet-me-room rack at 7am on a Sunday because no one is available.

e-mail lists are your friend
I have a few data centers which keep a pretty active list of what is going on at the facility. things like break room closures, parking restrictions due to construction, etc.

In other words, make it easy for your customer to follow your rules and procedures.

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