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THE DATA CENTRE QUAGMIRE

For sometimes, I have been planning to write an article that depicts the typical reasons which lead to construction or erection of a data centre by organizations. At present there are more than two hundred such facilities in the country, but only a handful of these are certified by international bodies or maintain high level standards compared to the international data centres. Operation of such infrastructure requires constant supervision and high level of organizational commitment towards expansion of business along with infrastructure at par. The article will look into the various elements that go into building a data centre in Bangladeshi context.

“To be or not to be”: Taking decision while having hiccup!

It is more of an ego for decision makers on having a data centre – a sure matter of pride. Compared to western countries where economics play a major roleplay in the decision process, the industry here goes by following others who have done such. At times a number of entrepreneurs are led into a joyride in building data centres despite the urge not to invest! This leads to a number of dilemma and hence budgetary constraints from the management in building an effective data centre.

Many organizations venture into building data centres with huge expectations and while evaluating the proposition end up with the financially competitive solution rather than technologically solvent solutions which can offer greater energy efficiency. Cost judgement factor is a major hurdle for entrepreneurs where the industry is struggling for the last decade while building data centre.

Recipe based data centre!

It is imperative that organizations understand that data centres are not designed based on common recipe: let’s put some precision air coolers here and there – does not matter whether they are in-row, perimeter cooling, etc.; two teaspoon UPS – does not matter whether its online or offline, standalone or modular, comes with SNMP monitoring or not; lets dump a few batteries in them to taste; a pinch of power cabling and circuit breakers – does not matter whether these circuit breakers are adjustable or not, whether they can take type-A, B or C current; two table spoon of raised floor; one large gas cylinder with some fire suppression gas and some sensors here and there… voila! Your data centre is cooked – anyone can do it!

NO! Your organization and its business will dictate on the type of data centre which you need to construct. It’s not like the typical cooking in TV screen which ends up with the smoothest textures and exotic looks but rather complex. People take such for granted. Even the components which need to be part of the data centre needs to be meticulously scaled and planned – unfortunately such is rarely done. Just like good chefs who not only follow common recipe while cooking but they also rely on their instincts and bring their own twists to the dish while cooking. This is how exclusiveness is brought to a dish and each organization’s data centre should have some specialty that distinguishes it from others.

Premises Selection is like selecting your bride!

It sounds ridiculous but YES, choosing the right place for your data centre is almost as critical as choosing your bride with whom you may spend the rest of your life. Most of the data centres in the country have been constructed in either non-commercial or commercial spaces which may not have been engineered to sustain workloads of a data centre. For example the location where the power generation system and backup batteries are to be located in the building are usually not planned. This instance may lead to uneven loads on the building structure and over time I won’t be surprised if you have another repetition of Rana Plaza incident.

Most buildings are also not designed with the appropriate height to accommodate the proper routing of power below raised floor and data cables overhead within the data centre. Let’s consider the raised floor – typical data centre with around 25 racks spread across 5 rows can be accommodated if you have roughly 10 feet floor-ceiling height, but if you are speaking about a congested space with more racks, you may require appropriate height. I have seen data centres with cables clogged left-right-center underneath the raised floor and overhead!

Another issue is rainfall due to your data centre should you have not considered the right insulation of your floors, ceilings and walls. The differences in humidity inside the data centre and on the corresponding exterior walls will lead to precipitation. Before you know it’s going to be monsoon everyday with damp walls and paint coming off!

Loading and unloading your data centre equipment within the building will lead to massive hurdles with human traffic in case you are not privileged to a service elevator. Either you make your way within the day as your equipment gets shipped in or out, else you need to stand clear till everyone vacates the building after work hours and you move in with your systems. I have witnessed equipment damage while they were being transported through staircases which is a major pain point for anyone. You bring everything to the doorstep and then Baam – something happens! Can’t blame the workers always!

If you end up choosing the wrong place for your data centre it may end in divorce! Period!

Importing items is like passing Spartan Sprint hurdle!

Oh yes! Everyone will agree with me in this part. Equipment manufacturers always have this hidden wall which you end up hitting after you place the order. Typical data centre components take around 6-8 weeks if you are lucky but at times when you luck runs out you may end up with delays and even worse, getting the wrong item. Unfortunately almost none of the Bangladeshi data centre component suppliers in Bangladesh can live up to these promises.

Even after you get your items in Bangladesh, Customs clearance is a major issue. It’s pretty sad when you hear our Customs department struggle with these technologies. Often this leads to wrong HS code declaration – part in side of CNF agent or at Customs part. A proper training on such technologies would lead to greater self-sufficiency and would ensure firm services.

A lot of the items are also subjected to harsh weather and poor handling at port which at times leads to damage incurred. A lot of the stevedores, foreman and forklift drivers are not equipped with the proper knowledge to handle such technology items which also leads to such undesirable accidents. These are issues which cannot be overlooked as foreign ports are more process oriented and this is one of the reasons they have managed to ship out such quantities of goods with exceptional workmanship.

A watched pot never boils but an unattended pot boils over and catches fire (Proverb)!

The proverb speaks for itself. The typical view of a data centre is often picturized with racks of equipment having blinking LED’s – often a sight to watch (in the dark). Since it’s a deserted place it needs to be thoroughly ‘checked out’ on a periodic basis. Most of the hardware systems are designed to ensure continuous operation for sustained periods in controlled environments such as a data centre. With little proactive care you can easily ensure up to 5 (five) or more years of operation. Throughout my tenure I have witnessed even Government institutions operating such infrastructure with components as delicate as Precision Air Condition (PAC) Systems for over 7 (seven) years without having to change any parts!

This means you have to ensure proper monitoring all the way from smoke / heat detectors, access control, cleanliness inside (keeping it dust proof if possible), valves, electrical switches, generator and backup power system checks, servers, storage, networking equipment, cabling checks and all that needs to be checked Physically as well as through NMS software, not to mention the fuel reserves for backup power generators.

Fire suppression systems have longevity so their effective dates needs to be checked over time. data centre’s prefer FM200, NAFS-125 or other Penta-floro-ethane based gases tend to be poisonous but can be effective in taking off oxygen from the environment. Most of the manufacturers tend to source these from foreign countries whereas companies such as BOC Bangladesh AKA Linde manufacture a few of them within Bangladesh.

Cabling systems needs to be checked over time to gather data on loss. Fluke Networks, Rhode and Schwarz (RNS), Exfo, Viavi (former JDSU) manufacture some of the most reliable testing equipment in the industry for engineers. Though there are the Chinese counterparts which may or may not be that reliable but the comical part is a lot of these items are made in China! Sadly considering the workloads we rarely make such checks unless we are faced with failure at respective interface levels.

Most of the data centres in Bangladesh lack that proactive maintenance. Checklist or handouts or professional training on how such systems and technologies should be maintained over time. With a little bit of care, you can ensure longevity of your data centre and further decrease TCO. CCTV’s can ensure certain levels of visibility within the data centre, but nothing beats the eye!

There is no ‘Surf Excel’ for data centres

Dust is a major enemy of data centre components. Trust me when I say this. DC powered equipment’s will fall prey to mechanical failure resulting from dust – don’t believe me, test it yourself. AC current powered equipment’s MAY (or may not) sustain for a little more time but at the end of the day they will surely result in mechanical failures such as PCB level chip burnouts or fan systems failing.

I presume this does not mean cleaning all items with Surf Excel. While it may be able to clean some of the worst types of stain it is recommended you not use Surf Excel to clean your servers. Rather use a gentle approach. Use a dry mop or vacuum to pick up dirt particles on the floor and subfloor surface. If a mop is used, make sure it is a data centre dedicated mop, otherwise you risk bringing in outside contaminants every time it is used. Make sure that the vacuum being used has a HEPA or similar filtering system (high-efficiency particulate absorber ensure almost 99.97% efficiency while removing dust from air).

While entering data centres almost nobody uses dedicated slippers or shoe covers. If you are inviting guests ensure they remove their shoes and wear rubber slippers to your data centre. It’s essential that data centres are kept clean from dust and static electricity. It is also recommended that clean clothing is ensured to limit external contaminant inside your data centre.

You are your own enemy / Safety precautions

Don’t believe me, ensure you wear silk clothing or walk over a carpet to accumulate static current and zap one of your equipment. It’s that eerie feeling when you realize you just became an Avenger and fired lightning bolts from your body when you touch someone or something. Static electricity hazards for equipment in data centres are deadly. It would be recommended we practice wearing rubber slippers or while you are loading and unloading heavy items – heavy boots are worn to protect your feet.

Though I have enjoyed meals such as Burger all the way to Sushi inside data centre while working for extensive hours in freezing weather which I would never recommend when you are working inside the data centre. Food and drinks are prohibited and papers should never be left unattended. All items which go inside the data centre should be logged and checked whether anyone has left anything inside. After a data centre visit someone should check respective isle / pathway leading all the way. I remember reading a news once that a flying paper caused fire in a data centre.

At times we walk with our cellular devices in the data centre which can cause some levels of noise / disruption to equipment. I have seen a number of data centres in foreign countries have wall phones to ensure basic communication within the premises. Engineers also use mobile trays where laptops can be placed so that limited work can be carried inside the premises. For long – sustained hours it is recommended to use the IPMI interface and work outside the data centre to avoid dehydration.

On a humor note: Till date nobody reported watching ghosts in data centre. I trust this is due to the excessively high levels of noise being generated from the peripherals which gets them spooked! ■

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