Why IT Server Room Policies and Contingencies Are Essential During the busy Christmas week last year the IT server room at a large UK hospital was at serious risk of overheating. Despite already having fixed air conditioning in place, the hospital was unhappy with the system's quality and reliability. In accordance with their server room policy (which had contingencies 'built-in'), the hospital's Director of Systems and Operations contacted an air conditioning hire specialist with whom he had formulated a contingency plan. His urgent request for portable air con units was responded to immediately, and any concerns over the server room overheating were swiftly allayed. The hospital was able to source the air con they required - from an air con rental specialist that offers a full 24-hour 365-day nationwide service - within the hour. Because a free site survey had already been performed by the specialist team, they knew which mobile air con units would be most appropriate for the room. The temperature was quickly lowered, with no disruption to normal server operations. Summer temperature threats These rooms are not just found in hospitals, of course; most business premises, educational establishments, and public buildings, etc. that use networked computers will have a server room. Wherever the room is located, the temperature there can on average be 10°C higher than the rest of the building. This means the room can overheat quickly in summer. In the UK, the hottest temperature ever recorded was 37°C (in Kent), which would make the temperature at server rooms there a dangerous 47°C - inevitably leading to server malfunction. But even during a typical UK summer, when the temperature is usually 20°C, it would still mean a server room temperature of at least 30°C. About controlled server room access Very few server rooms house a single server (a server 'node'). Normally, a number of connected nodes will be housed in racks, along with routers and switches, in a room with controlled access. At larger facilities where there is a server room controlled access policy in place, only server engineers will have right of entry to the room, working there under the direction of the Director of Systems and Operations, or the Production Operations Manager. Controlled access is essential as an unauthorised employee could compromise the room's temperature accidentally, e.g. by switching off air con units. Some businesses and organisations even have CCTV cameras in place, to protect their server room equipment and the information stored on it. Access will be provided through use of a code number, swipe card, through signing-in or having an 'access request' accepted. All employees will be made aware of the facility's policy, in which it is made clear: 1. Who is allowed admittance? 2. Who is responsible for checking temperatures regularly? 3. What the protocol is if the temperature rises? In fact, such is the potential hazard of high temperatures at some facilities, if a server room temperature climbs to a dangerous level at night or over the weekend, authorised staff can receive an automatic e-mail or text message, alerting them to the problem. How server rooms are kept cool Servers are kept cool by internal fans and by carefully-managed external temperature control. The most appropriate temperature will be governed by the room's size and the number of servers housed there; although, generally speaking, if people have to work in this type of room it is best to aim for a comfortable temperature of around 20°C. When server cooling fans and / or the room's built-in ambient air con system and rack cooling solutions fail to keep equipment cool, servers (and their internal components, such as motherboards, memory cards, wiring, etc.) can melt and simply become unsalvageable. Even if they partly work, or are only mildly affected, serious problems, which may not be immediately apparent, can come to light weeks later. Combined policies can make a server room failsafe As we have seen with the aforementioned UK hospital example, the key to responding quickly, in the event of an overheating emergency at a server room, is to already have a contingency plan in place. This, coupled with a server room controlled access policy and a clear crisis management plan, can provide peace of mind for a Director of Systems and Operations, or a Production Operations Manager - expensive equipment can be protected from overheating, with little or no disruption to normal IT operations. Article submitted by Steve Reeve, Sales Director at Andrews Sykes. Andrews Sykes is the UK's largest specialist portable air conditioning hire company, with over 25 years' experience. Andrews Sykes serves the small business market using machinery sourced from the world's top manufacturers.
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