Server room planning: Location, space, setup and environmental considerations

The following tip is excerpted from Chapter 1, Choosing your server, from our e-book, "Windows servers and storage." This excerpt looks at the physical aspects of server installation, including reasons for a dedicated server room, what a server room should contain and what makes an installation efficient.

The following tip is excerpted from Chapter 1, Choosing your server, from our e-book, Windows servers and storage. This chapter touches on aspects of server hardware, beginning with architectures--systems components and interconnects -- and ways to build servers from these components.

The server room: Location, space and setup

In this section we look at the physical aspects of server installation, including reasons for a dedicated server room, what a server room should contain, environmental considerations, key points in planning a server room, an installation checklist and a few words on what makes an installation efficient.

Even a small server installation can benefit from a dedicated room. Those small servers can impose an intolerable noise and thermal burden in an ordinary office environment, in addition to the serious security concerns that arise from an unprotected server that's easily accessible by passersby.

More excerpts from
Windows servers and storage

Understanding basic server architecture 

Guide to server architectures

Standards and product life/hype cycles

A large server configuration will quickly exceed both the tolerable noise level in an office environment and the regulatory limits allowed for noise (these limits can vary by country). Furthermore, such a server configuration will impose a substantial thermal burden, most easily handled by a dedicated room with specialized air conditioning. A dedicated room also makes access control straightforward. Requiring electronic badges allows you to restrict access and keep an accurate log of who entered and left.

A dedicated server room generally will contain not only the server itself, but also disks, back-up devices, interfacing cables and, quite likely, spare disks, blades, peripheral cards, fans and other equipment. Although server administration can be performed remotely, it makes sense to provide a local console within the server room, allowing administrators to perform maintenance and administration locally.

Environmental considerations

The server room must be large enough to hold the server equipment and allow you to rearrange equipment as needs change, including changes in air conditioning and electrical power. The room should also have space for replacement equipment such as extra logic cards, fans, disks and unused backup tape cartridges.

Improperly estimating these requirements could force you to move a server installation to a new room, which means a serious disruption in service for the company. That move also generates direct and indirect costs; these include the direct costs of acquiring, constructing and provisioning the new server room and indirect costs that arise when inadequate computer or storage restrict the company's ability to work efficiently and respond effectively to competitors.

It is important that backup storage devices not be stored in the server room. A fire could damage both the hardware and the backups, rendering the whole backup exercise useless (we look at backup in greater detail in Chapter 4). Backups should be stored offsite in fire-resistant storage.

Make sure that the power supporting the server room is sufficient for not just today's uses but for future growth in the server. It is penny wise and pound foolish to scrimp on properly outfitting the server room. Allow for sufficient lighting and multiple electrical outlets; doing this right makes maintenance and enhancements simpler.

It may be necessary to equip the server room with dedicated air conditioning to keep equipment from overheating. In addition, server equipment is sensitive to air quality, so it is wise to ensure building cleanliness, which may involve installing air filters.

About the authors:
René J Chevance is an independent consultant. He formerly worked as chief Scientist of Bull, a European-based global IT supplier.

Pete Wilson is Chief Scientist of Kiva Design, a small consultancy and research company specializing in issues surrounding the move to multi-core computing platforms, with special emphasis on the embedded space. Prior to that, he spent seven years at Motorola/Freescale.

This was first published in October 2006

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