Rack Like A Pro

Rack Like a Pro in the Data Center

To compete in the fast-paced data center industryor even to stay afloatrequires professional operations. To that end, DC owners and managers focus primarily on technology, data security, and the preservation of uptime. What can be forgotten is the work on the floor being handled by the operators: the methodology in handling all of the remarkable tech and equipment that makes up data center infrastructure.

Servers must be refreshed, decommissioned, removed from racks for repair and consolidation, and replaced. Day-to-day DC ops are physically demanding as IT pieces are moved into and out of cabinets.

The pros keep these physical challenges in mind at all times, along with a game plan on how best to attack them. Here’s what they know, and why ServerLIFT data center lifts and attachments can give you the same expert advantage.

Professional vs. Semi-Pro

Taking things to the next level in the data center can mean having even the slightest of advantages over the competition. There are many data center techs out there doing their best to make things work with the hand they are dealt. They are tackling projects one by one, teaming up to lift each piece of heavy equipment by hand.

This strategy is doable only because it has to be, but it’s not ideal—and it comes with a cost. These unsafe practices go from “every once in a while” to frequent occurrences, creating risk for employees, downtime, and project delays.

Of course it is both smart and necessary to focus on digital data safety (e.g., security and malware) or related issues such as fire danger and suppression, safe cabling, and creating a DC emergency evacuation plan. Data center operators correctly focus heavily on these concerns—but they must also address the prevalence of physical injuries caused by the unsafe handling of dangerous and expensive equipment.

By the Numbers

One piece of equipment can weigh hundreds of pounds. Fully populated racks can weigh thousands. OSHA limits manual lifting to 50 pounds in a warehouse setting, and 30 pounds in an office setting. In some DCs, operators will team up to remain (technically) within recommended lifting limits (three people to lift a 150-pound server, four to lift a 200-pound server, and so on).  But in 2016, there were more than 150,000 non-fatal back injuries reported by workers across multiple industries in the United States.

If you’re unsure about manual lifting limitations, the CDC has a NIOSH equation app that can be downloaded here.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), commonly known as ergonomic injuries, accounted for 34 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work in 2012 . . . Workers who sustained MSDs required a median of 12 days to recuperate before returning to work, compared with nine days for all types of cases . . . MSDs involving the back required a median of seven days to recuperate and accounted for 41 percent of the MSD cases.”

Additional data from the BLS shows that companies where employees do not make direct contact with objects (in other words, they use automated lifting equipment rather than manual lifting) show a nearly 50 percent decrease in overall injuries. Setting up a server rack or installing a server is safest when an operator has access to automated resources to protect their back, neck, and arms.

Aside from the sheer physical burden of moving servers, there is also the danger of working on and around energized equipment. Arc flash incidents are responsible for one to two deaths daily. Two-thirds of these electrical injuries result from the inappropriate action of a worker, i.e., contact with equipment that should never be handled manually. The average incident costs $1.5 million for all associated medical treatments.

Streamlining Ops to Rack Like a Pro

The first step toward streamlining data center operations is mastering the three essential functions. ServerLIFT created the data center lift, and it is still the only brand of lift that does all three completely and safely.

To Rack Like a Pro, our server-handling lifts also do everything else you would ever need within the data center. Our lifts are designed to get servers and other parts from the loading dock to the rack, quickly and without fail. Here is how we go the extra mile:

Unboxing: ServerLIFT lift extensions attach to any ServerLIFT device to remove and lift equipment weighing up to 1,000 pounds (454 kg) from their boxes or off of pallets.

Angling: ServerLIFT solves the awkward problem of installing or removing servers from rails with J-shaped slots, allowing an operator to support a server at the perfect angle to drop it into these types of rails. That is a feature that isn’t found on any other lift on the market.

Positioning: ServerLIFT solutions can be configured to support a heavy piece of equipment all the way down to the floor, or all the way up to the top of a 62U rack (112 inches, or 284.5 cm).

Traversing obstacles: Each ServerLIFT data center lift has nearly an inch of ground clearance, allowing it to move over ramps, cables, and doorways/elevator thresholds.

Installation: The slim, open ServerLIFT design allows for installation and removal without the dangerous pinch points and closed, restricted-access frames found on other lifts.

The right tools can take your operations from risky to safe, and from inefficient to streamlined. See how purpose-built ServerLIFT data center lifting equipment compares to other brands, and see why the pros know that nothing but ServerLIFT solutions will do.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The top data center professionals are productive and efficient without wasting precious CapEx and OpEx. They aren’t doubling up on shifts, missing days due to sprains and strains, and they certainly aren’t risking damage to valuable property. They are working smarter by choosing operational assets designed to keep data center tasks flowing.

Avoiding injuries is one of the best ways to negate unnecessary spending, as demonstrated by OSHA:

  • MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) account for 34 percent of all lost-workday injuries and illnesses.
  • Employers report nearly 600,000 MSDs requiring time away from work every year.
  • MSDs account for $1 of every $3 spent for workers’ compensation.
  • MSDs each year account for more than $15 billion to $20 billion in workers’ compensation costs. Total direct costs add up to as much as $50 billion annually.

Each lift requires the help of only one operator, creating savings in shift management. A ServerLIFT lifting device also provides crucial protection for sensitive, expensive equipment.

Because the data center is entirely unique from a warehouse or an office environment, each asset utilized within should be designed specifically for DC use. Any operations plan created for the data center must reflect these unique features.

Doing things “the old way” is easy, but experts note a cultural change occurring in data centers globally. A top-level professional ops plan will help to keep operators and other staff safe. Equipment moves, whether big or small, will be streamlined and efficient. And finally, by preventing injuries and protecting servers, considerable time and money will be saved. Click here to contact ServerLIFT and Rack Like a Pro.

We invite you to join us and learn to Rack Like a Pro with our brand-new Data Center Safety Group. It is powered by experts in the field, and fueled by a shared interest in improving safety and efficiency in data centers worldwide.

Data Center Equipment Safety Matters: Here's Why

Data Center Equipment Safety Matters: Here’s Why

Historically, the data center industry has been resistant to stagnation. Year over year, it sees tremendous growth and advancement. The Cisco Global Cloud Index shows sustained trends in both data center virtualization and cloud computing, with growth in nearly every associated sector. This positive news extends through 2021, when “data center storage installed capacity will [have grown] to 2.6 ZB, up from 663 EB in 2016, nearly a four-fold growth.”

Growth is always good news, but the way work is conducted in the data center needs to keep pace with it all. With more work comes greater challenges—not just in volume, but also in the practical logistics of operations. Keeping pace with the physical handling of servers and other rack-mounted equipment, for example, is now potentially more dangerous than ever.

The primary concern in this area is still safety—the prevention of physical incidents, including accidents and muscle strain. Lifting and handling capacity remains up for debate, even when it should not. Operators are often lifting more by hand than they should—or need to. Many times, they are also tasked with lifting using devices that were not designed for the data center.

Other top concerns include electrical work; heat; working at height; transitioning to new hardware and equipment without adequate training; operating at lower cost (leading to tired workers on longer shifts); DC density increasing; zombie servers, and the pressure to move or eliminate legacy systems.

We spoke with data center safety expert Walter Leclerc of Digital Realty about these growing industry demands and the need for a greater focus on safety.

“The demands for DCs are exploding, and the need for efficiency and risk aversion is paramount. DCMs must protect the safety of employees, customers, contractors, and visitors by reducing operational risk, while ensuring that their facility is running properly and uptime is maximized. DCMs need to have effective policies in place, procedures to follow and the right equipment to do the job safely,” Leclerc asserts.

Thankfully, a number of proactive practices are also becoming more common. Proper planning, including the right solutions for equipment transportation and installation, can eliminate so many of the risks we’ve mentioned.

Following data center regulations and utilizing a purpose-built Assisted Lifting Device (ALD) addresses many of these concerns. The only lift that makes sense in a data center space is one designed specifically to solve all its many unique safety challenges.

What follows is a safety-focused comparison of the choices presented as good options in the market, including ServerLIFT devices. The results are primarily based on a commissioned functionality and product performance review—via Arizona State University—of the ServerLIFT SL-350X hand-cranked data center lift, alongside a Racklift device and a standard manual warehouse lift. We will take a deep dive into how those results speak to the safety of all three devices.

Obstacles and Tipping Points

Some of the hidden dangers in data centers include floor obstacles like cord covers, door thresholds, and ramps that put rolling equipment at risk of tipping.

ServerLIFT

With nearly a full inch of ground clearance underneath its machines, ServerLIFT’s machine passed ASU’s competitive testing without issue. They navigated every floor obstruction with ease. The onboard server remained stable, and the unit didn’t show a hint of tending toward tipping.

ServerLIFT devices have a tested tipping point of over 150% of full rated load at the edge of its fully extended platform shelf—all while keeping itself stable without being attached or tethered to anything.

Racklift

Racklift machines have ground clearance of only half an inch. During testing (a cord and a mat were placed in the lift’s path) the device could not pass over the obstructions without immediately tipping, with or without a server on board. Had the operator not put all of his strength into pulling the machine back from tipping, the server would certainly have fallen off and been damaged.

Even absent of floor obstructions, the Racklift has a tipping point (with the shelf extended) of only 23% of its rated load. Catastrophic accidents are a real and ever-present possibility.

Warehouse Lift

The warehouse lift and Racklift results were identical for cord and mat obstruction testing. The warehouse lift was unable to pass over either without tipping, with or without a server on board.

Server Installation and Removal

The most pivotal aspect of server handling is the transfer from the ALD to the rack, or vice versa. At this most tenuous of moments, the stability of the lift and being able to work with a clear and safe line of sight to the equipment is of utmost importance.

ServerLIFT

The ServerLIFT device stays stable during the installation and removal process. It does not shift, pinch hands, or strain arms and backs. Results from Arizona State University show the installation test was both easy and successful.

These units are all self-supporting and stable. This is due, in part, to a heavy-duty steel frame and stabilizer brakes that actually lift the back wheels slightly up off the ground to prevent rolling during an equipment transfer.

Racklift

The installation test using the Racklift took longer, and was deemed “uncomfortable, difficult, and awkward.” Ratchet straps are needed in order stabilize the unit by securing it to a rack or cabinet. If a cabinet has a door, there may be nowhere to affix the strap hooks, leaving the Racklift completely unsecured.

The four-post frame, combined with cross-bracing members and an exposed lifting cable, make the Racklift a device that is replete with dangerous pinch points precisely in places where the operator must work. Catching hands, clothing, or hair—resulting in a potentially catastrophic injury—is not just a real possibility but a constant concern. Within many data centers, these structures are so obtrusive that accessing the servers and mounting rails to facilitate an install is nearly impossible.

Also, when transferring new servers onto the device from a workbench or by hand, the Racklift’s greatest flaws are exposed. Its wheel locks are no match for absorbing the force imparted to it by the heavy server, causing it to move and roll at precisely the moment you need it to remain still.

Warehouse Lift

This was another very complicated and difficult installation for operators, beginning with the lack of brakes. A foot placed on the lift held it relatively still, but there was constant worry that the server would fall and be damaged. A hand also had to be used to hold one rail in place as the other was adjusted, because both could not be assessed visually at once.

The warehouse lift suffers the same fate as the Racklift in terms of stability. There is no scenario in which is can be adequately stabilized other than by having a colleague brace it with their own body weight, which is unsafe.

Visibility and Ergonomics

An ALD within the data center can be an essential tool, provided it doesn’t get in your way. Ensuring the ALD makes the task at hand easier and not more complicated is critical to keeping you and your payload safe.

ServerLIFT

ServerLIFT devices are designed with a longer but narrow structure that does not compromise visibility. Issues with obstructions are also, therefore, a non-issue. The placement of the winch and other primary mechanisms keeps these things out of the way of the operator for a worry-free server install. As ASU reviewers noted, it was also the only lift that could be nested closely with server housing for easy transfer. This keeps the chances of equipment sliding or falling to a minimum, keeping operators safe and protected.

Handles and their placement also received high marks. According to the review team, they provide better ability to pivot and provide control, while the braking system and easy-to-reach pedals were noted for their simplicity of use and navigational superiority. Ergonomic features such as these shield the user from surprise adjustments, and keep movements smooth and natural, preventing injuries.

Racklift

In testing, the Racklift device did not adapt well to narrow aisles, leaving the least amount of space on either side for the operator. In addition, the structure of the Racklift forces the operator to reach through the frame to make adjustments. Less space for users can lead to dangerous tight squeezes for the torso, and any awkward positioning raises the chances of getting hurt.

The ASU study highlighted some other issues: “Major obstacles include the thick metal band surrounding the middle of the Racklift, making mid-level installations incredibly difficult and uncomfortable.” Arms and hands were also put at risk due to minimal clearance pinch points in areas where access is required.

The handles were only located on one of the three sides of the Racklift device; in certain positions, the lift crank became an obstacle. This would happen every time the operator was attempting to utilize a server slot at the same level as the crank. Having to come down to or up to the server slot, instead of coming in straight, forced the operator to lose balance and stability.

Finally, operators had the biggest issue with the brake pedals. They referred to contact as “uncomfortable,” and stated that the brakes were very hard to use. In a number of positions, the locks were hidden from sight entirely and have to be activated by hand. The tester had to hold the rack in place to be certain it would not move. Any chance of a lift moving during server transfer means a drop or other accident can happen at any time.

Warehouse Lift

Originally, the light and spare frame of the warehouse lift appeared optimal for line of sight during ASU’s testing. That proved to be inaccurate due to the small amount of space allotted to the operator between the server and the lift frame. In fact, it led to an injury for the operator. Their finger was jammed due to low visibility.

The brakes could not be evaluated because there were none. Braking the machine consisted of holding it in place with a foot several inches off of the floor. Again, movement during installation or removal without an alternative stabilizing mechanism is an incident waiting to happen.

As expected, these features would be ideal for the less precise handling of boxes in a warehouse environment, but fall well short when it comes to working with sensitive, expensive servers in a data center.

The Evolving Data Center

Inside the data center, experts already know that there are limits to manual lifting that should not be ignored. As the analysis demonstrates, there are also major issues with attempting to use a non-purpose-built or poorly designed lifting devices within these same confines.

In every category, the ServerLIFT data center lift demonstrated not just superior but exceptional, and hence safer, results. It is a device designed specifically to solve every safety problem involved with handling servers in data centers. More importantly, it does not solve one safety challenge only to create new ones.

Neither Racklift nor warehouse lifts meet the standards put in place to protect the people who maintain some of our most expensive data center real estate. Warehouse lifts, in particular, are deeply unsuited for the DC environment.

ServerLIFT solutions are the right and only safe choice:

  • For protecting your staff in any situation
  • For protecting your equipment and prevent expensive accidents
  • Designed appropriately for the data center
  • Certified to meet safety standards globally

Click here to review the full study done in partnership with Arizona State University.

The Current State of Data Center Safety

The Current State of Data Center Safety

Data centers are unique spaces that come with unique challenges. Each DC is designed differently depending on its geographic location, service providers, data storage types, etc. Cooling and power concerns are typically the biggest expense and therefore always top of mind. As a result, most feature restricted spaces that include narrow aisles and/or overhead/ground-level obstructions. And, no matter how they are configured, the handling of servers and other expensive, sensitive equipment is an often-overlooked challenge.

Rack-mounted data center devices are expensive, large, and oftentimes heavy. They should never be lifted by hand. 30 pounds is the limit for a person carrying items in an office or in another non-physical role. In a warehouse or industrial setting, the recommended limit for manual lifting of equipment from OSHA only goes up to 50 pounds. In any case, with dimensions of at least 17 inches wide and 30+ inches deep, even the lightest of rack-mounted servers are awkward to handle, physically speaking.

Some of the most common injuries in the IT industry include strains and sprains of the arms, shoulders, and back. The probability of an incident and its potential severity while conducting this type of work in a DC is significant,” notes Walter Leclerc, Director, Environmental Occupational Health and Safety at Digital Realty.

The Data Center Cultural Shift

The good news is that a global cultural change is taking place in data centers. The baseline expectation for safety standards in DC facilities is starting to shift quickly.

“Early on in the history of data centers . . . there was a lot of bootstrapping and there weren’t a lot of established standards. And one of the things we are seeing is that the industry is maturing. Facilities are starting to consolidate into similar kinds of standards across the world. A baseline expectation of facility safety and standards for most data centers has developed within the DC cultural consciousness,” says Brandon Budd, Vice President of Operations at ServerLIFT Corporation.

Expectations are increasing for both physical and digital standards. On the physical side of the spectrum, there is a greater focus on safer working conditions, improved compliance, and the reduction of bodily injuries. New occupational health and safety standards are being crafted in response. Informed and demanding customers now have a better understanding of the significant workplace hazards hidden within a data center.

“The cultural change has been brought on by incidents, an increased enforcement posture by government agencies, a better understanding in the workplace of safety hazards as well as rules and regulations, design improvements, and an overall culture shift in the DC industry,” says Leclerc.

Data Centers at Risk

Manual lifting carries great risk for both the operator and their employer. Injuries drive up the data center costs while limiting growth and expansion capabilities. There is a battle over the short supply of technical talent as it is, making losing a tech to a preventable injury or downtime even more costly. Aside from the significant threat to employee safety, there is also the potential damage to storage, processing, and distribution equipment. These risks are no longer going unnoticed in the industry.

A strategic roadmap to better safety standards, improved productivity, and cost reduction in the data center should include a physical solution that offsets the dangers and costs of injuries and accidents.

Safety First: Mechanical Server Handling 

A mechanical data center lift brings risk levels down to nearly zero when used properly. It is a safety-focused solution, designed for use in an IT infrastructure environment.

“I can see how a tech might not want to bring out the lift just to move one 50-pound  server. But it would only take one time for a tech to trip or drop that, and then they have to replace a $25,000 piece of equipment that only weighed 50 pounds,” says Budd.  

A server handling lift does the following for data center operations:

  • Speeds up work/efficiency
  • Server support with precise positioning and angling
  • Complies with global regulations

Getting Results with an Assisted Lifting Device

Digital Realty Manager of Remote Hands Services John Scoggins describes the process his operators used to move equipment before they purchased an ALD (assisted lifting device): “When installing a heavy piece of equipment into a cabinet, we would install a temporary equipment shelf using use the two-man rule while we lifted the equipment onto the shelf, to install it at a high-level RU position. Once the equipment was secure, we would remove the shelf.”

Scoggins says their first ALD was purchased when they had to install heavier customer-provided equipment. He says they were also getting requests from customers asking if they had a server handling device to assist with installations. Size and mobility were their top concerns. They now use it for server, switch, and router moves. “It sure makes the job safer and easier when they do use the ALD,” says Walter Leclerc.

Does Every Data Center Need an ALD?

“Any DC that has multiple racks and definitive aisles is probably big enough to benefit from it,” says Budd. “Even if they only need to install or remove a piece of equipment once or twice a year, the risk or chance of getting hurt or damaging something is high enough that it is worth making a one-time capital investment into something that prevents or mitigates against those risks.”

Leclerc says the ALD purchase feeds into that overall cultural change he is fostering within his company, Digital Realty. “I think this is really about the well-being of our employees, our safety culture, and continual improvement.”

Priority and risk variables come into play for safety issues, and they need to be considered before an ALD purchase. DC design is another factor: “How high are the racks? How narrow are the aisles? Is growth part of the business plan? Purchasing something that can do it all is really the number one thing,” says Budd.

Best Practices Leave Manual Lifting Behind

Many DC managers and owners have already made the switch to reduce costs and increase safety. The creation of a safe environment is weighed against budget and often results in a shift in overall mindset.

“What an ALD can do for a DC in terms of efficiency, cost reduction, morale of the staff, is all really just a bonus. At the end of the day, it tends to be a win-win for everyone,” says Budd.

Streamlining the Data Center: IT Infrastructure Trends

Challenges for IT operations teams are growing. One of the ways many data center leaders are attempting to deal with these IT infrastructure struggles is by streamlining the DC environment.

Your team may be aiming for the elimination of redundant files or data, improvement of data integrity or security, or decreasing maintenance and operations costs. All three make sense. In this blog post, we will review the top data center trends for streamlining your unique DC environment.

No Data Center is the Same

There is no “typical” data center, says Phil Isaak of Isaak Technologies, and every space is unique. He notes, “Clients have different types of hardware, different mixes of hardware, and that affects the design of a data center.”

There is no typical solution, therefore, for the following issues:

  • Virtualization
  • Dropping IT budgets
  • Process automation

Isaak says it is important to ask some standard questions before considering a change: “What are the project requirements? What’s the best solution for that particular client, based on their specific data center needs . . . and operating practices and budget? Obviously, the budget is a primary consideration.” Often, budget considerations in conjunction with the issues listed above lead a client to the streamlining options below.

Moving to the Cloud

As you know, transitioning to the cloud has become a popular choice in recent years, particularly for an enterprise with budgetary concerns. Typically, it entails the reduction of your own IT department in order to shift some or all of your existing data storage needs to an off-site third-party provider.

Despite the popularity of the cloud, many business leaders opt to retain some infrastructure in-house and utilize a hybrid approach. Isaak sees a multitude of strategies in his consultation work: “What is the level of reliability and redundancy that they need, in a cost-effective manner? Again, it all comes down to the cost. What is the cost of the service versus the risk of the reliability of the service?”

The Edge Data Center

Another “on-trend” data center strategy is the establishment of “edge” data centers. Interestingly enough, the edge data center has become popular as a direct result of the cloud. Microservice architectures allow streamlining as a certain portion of a business’s applications are moved to the edge of the network.

Tom Bittman writes that the agility achieved by the cloud is only restricted by two physical limitations: the “weight” of the data, and the speed of light. In contrast, an edge data center moves processing back closer to the end user and eliminates latency. The edge DC trend also translates to a significant increase in the number of data centers.

Corporate entities, in particular, are looking at the edge setup to determine if it is a good fit. In the corporate world, Isaak says, an edge DC is either a backup to an unreliably large network, or it is solving the high cost of a large network. Originally used primarily by global content providers and telecommunications companies, its impact is now spreading.

Micro Data Centers

Like ripples in a pond, the edge market is creating new demand for the micro data center. As the name indicates, a micro data center is small and usually contained within a standalone rack, complete with cooling, security, and an incorruptible power supply. This modular server system can be shipped and installed fully assembled.

The racking system utilized within a micro data center minimizes its physical footprint and creates a more eco-friendly setting for data storage and processing. It does far more, however, than just eliminating cable clutter. One Florida solutions provider asserts that companies looking for fast growth are opting to move to the cloud, but businesses experiencing steady growth are often opting for edge and micro data center solutions. See what Dell EMC has to say on the topic in the video below.

The Eco-Conscious Choice

IT is also on the cutting edge of creating more environmentally friendly options in IT infrastructure design. This is a change brought about by a desire to do the right thing, and by the cost savings involved.

Energy costs have exploded for data centers. “They’re energy hogs,” says Isaak. He says he is surprised, for example, by the number of data centers still running at 70℉. “It surprises me because it’s such a simple operational change— [all it requires is] to increase the temperatures slowly [and not drastically], and see if there’s any change in performance or reliability.”

Improvements in tech can allow the data center to shrink, but power and cooling concerns often remain the same. Going “green” is one streamlining tactic with big impact for DCs. “They’ve always been good candidates for implementing newer, greener technologies,” says Isaak. “The payback is much faster than if you implemented that same technology in a retail or office space somewhere, or in any other type of building.”

What is Next for the Data Center?

What is ahead in 2018 and beyond? Isaak says data center operators will be feeling more pressure as the level of service expectations rises for IT groups. Most will opt for the hybrid approach, mixing cloud and traditional DCs to find an appropriate mix based on the business or corporation’s tolerance for risk.

Other trends that will contribute to data center streamlining:

  • Higher-density equipment
  • Liquid cooling
  • Taller racks
  • Preconfigured racks
  • Layout/operating procedures

The physical footprint of servers and other equipment will continue to drop. Liquid cooling is developing quickly, and it is primarily being utilized to cool the chip layers within servers. Taller racks (well above 42U) and preconfigured racks are options Isaak sees more IT managers exploring to save space, go green, and automate processes if a company is busy deploying DCs across the globe.

The Streamlined Data Center

Doing more with less is not an original concept for the data center, but it is now exacerbated by calls for optimized data processing with diminishing geographical room. Server rack components are getting smaller, but they still contain the same or greater computing power, and it must all still be kept cool and organized.

Combined with lower IT budgets and concerns about a warming planet, the data center is getting smarter, not bigger. Isaak says that is the challenge: “Identifying the best way to configure all of our applications, all of our hardware, the network, and then the physical infrastructure to support that.”

Saving money and saving the planet are just two of the more practical perks of streamlining  data center and IT operations environments. We continue to move steadily toward a dynamic, scalable DC with capabilities far beyond the traditional siloed space.

Why Not Go Higher? The Trend Toward Taller Racks

A data center manager hears this question often: “How can we safely expand IT operations without having to move to a new facility?” One of the easiest and most cost-effective answers appears to be to move upward.

The 42U rack is a data center industry standard, but in the next few years, we expect server rack dimensions to change. As data racks become more affordable, they are also getting taller. A recent Global Data Center Rack Market report shows shipments of 48U racks have already well outpaced 42U racks, and data center rack units as tall as 51U show strong sales growth. Intel put in 60U racks at their Santa Clara data center a few years back. They went from 25,000 square feet supporting 5 megawatts to 5,000 square feet for the same amount of support.

Here at RackSolutions, data center product design and custom product design is our specialty. We’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. Our primary concern—far beyond what’s trendy—is in the creation of a data center rack that will make sense for you, the customer. The source of our inspiration often comes directly from our clients and their needs.

Any innovation that increases server capacity while still allowing access to power and cooling systems is going to be of interest to us. We are also responding to concerns regarding the smartest usage of available space. That’s why we began creating custom racks far taller than the industry standard.

Taller Racks and Maximizing Square Footage

The need for increased rack height first became apparent about a decade ago. A customer came to us with concerns about their East Coast facility. It was a large space, with a great deal of headroom over the racks. They asked us why we couldn’t go any higher. With the industry standard holding steady at 42U, we went up to 55U in our first design.

Since then, a number of clients have also requested taller racks. We usually stop at about 58U, but that is only due to shipping restrictions. The internal height of a semi is 110 inches. Once a rack gets any taller, it has to be laid on its side. This leaves a lot of unused space in the trucks. Logistically, it’s not the best use of space or money. It also means racks any taller than 58U cannot come pre-populated with equipment, which has the potential to severely impact the customer’s installation time, costs, and ultimately their bottom line.

Challenges Posed by Taller Racks

The first problem we often face is the door of the facility itself. For many data centers, the door needs to be reframed to accommodate taller racks. Equipment must also be highly specialized to get staff up to the top portions of the rack safely. Finally, there is the cooling issue. How does the client circulate cool air that high?

We’ve come up with a number of solutions to address these issues. Data center personnel often place lightweight components near the top of supersize racks. Components such as switches, patch panels, and fan trays do not require frequent access. Servers and heavier equipment remain at the bottom, which increases rack stability.

Most data centers are built on raised flooring, on 24×24 panels. Clients add grates for directed airflow, and we supply baffles to send cool air back downward. Directing conditioned air properly is a major consideration when taller racks are installed. Airflow must often be increased in the data center before new racks are placed and IT equipment is rearranged.

The hot-aisle/cold-aisle configuration is another solution we see frequently. Cabinets alternate two fronts and then two backs, channeling hot air away. Proper cooling techniques are particularly important with tall racks. Temperature-controlled infrastructure goes a long way in saving you from unnecessary headaches down the road.

The Tall Rack Trend

Taller racks make sense to a large number of our clients. In fact, just three years ago, racks 50U or larger made up more than two-thirds of our total sales. We expect to see an even greater number of customers coming to us in the future for customized racks of greater height.

Those who have moved ahead with installation have immediately seen the cost savings per square foot. The higher power density and the ability to pack more servers into limited space offer tremendous advantages. Those servers are becoming more powerful every year. When we speak to someone planning a relocation or a new data center, it is all about utilization of floor space and placing as many servers on each rack as possible.

It’s unlikely, however, that racks will continue to grow taller. Once you go above 70U, safety and convenience are both affected. While our racks are highly durable and meet the strictest industry standards, they are still limited by weight capacity.

If you are considering extending your server racks and taking advantage of taller ceilings, these are all issues to consider. Overall, this trend is allowing expansion for data centers in a highly cost-effective manner. We expect to see many conversions to taller racks in the near future.

Additional Information from ServerLIFT

ServerLIFT server-handling products are uniquely qualified to tackle the demands of a taller rack.

Our data center lifts include an extendable frame which can safely support servers being placed into racks up to 65U (120”) high*. Yet, when retracted, our lifts are compact enough to navigate any facility – even through standard height doors and elevators. Lightweight and rugged, the ServerLIFT data center lift improves employee safety by alleviating potential back strain and maintaining even alignment of heavy equipment.

Positioning for both hot and cold containment aisles is simple and straightforward with our RL-500™ Platform Riser. It is designed for low ceiling clearance, and will help you to navigate obstructions with ease.

ServerLIFT provides custom solutions for data centers across the world. Whatever your specifications and design needs, we can assist.

* Recently we even developed a special order model that allows operators in specialized facilities to lift and install servers to the top of 90U (nearly 14 ft.) custom racks.


ServerLIFT often invites thought leaders in the server, product solutions, and rack storage industries to contribute to our TechLIFT blog. The opinions in these blog posts are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the ServerLIFT point of view.

Data Center Migration Relocation Checklist

Data Center Relocation / Migration Checklist

Updated for 2018:

Data Center Knowledge recently identified exponential data growth as a critical challenge for the IT industry. More organizations are being presented with the idea of migration or data center relocation. Some of the key reasons a company will plan for a data center relocation include potential cost savings, the need for more physical space, and security/compliance issues. Regardless of the reasons, data center relocation is a high-risk operation and an overwhelming task to tackle.

Data center moves and migrations have become an inevitable fact of life. Modern data centers typically move three to five times, with 53% of companies expecting to do so within the next few years, according to senior project manager Shawn Simon of National Computer Warehouse Services, LLC. (NCWS).

The most common data center moves, according to Simon, involve two types of workers:

  1. In-House Staff. In-house staff may move servers daily, but they are often not prepared for the difficult and fast nature of a massive server deployment during a data center migration. They need to prepare for it in concert with professional movers, and remain involved in the planning process.
  2. Professional Data Center Movers. The professional mover takes care of the physical move, including servers that have been packed and prepared as freight, and all of the big items such as cabinets and furniture. You need to make sure you connect with an experienced partner who has extensive knowledge of the intricacies encountered during a move. Doing so can make the difference between a smooth transition and a potential nightmare.

Involving in-house staff, including management, budgeting, and facilities maintenance, can help to avoid surprises from outside your IT staff and facilitate company-wide buy-in. Early in the process, establish and practice coordinating efforts between the in-house staff and professional movers.

While all data center migration projects require some custom decisions based on the needs of your company, there are standard best practices that will make relocation easier. Here is a quick migration checklist of important aspects that should be considered before the move:

Data Center Relocation / Migration Checklist

1) Project Planning

  • For large moves, choose an experienced, certified moving company with data center experience.
  • Establish and practice coordination between the data center movers and in-house staff.
  • Develop a budget and a Data Center Relocation Blueprint, including:
    • Planning time and effort
    • New facility acquisition, evaluation, and renovation costs
    • Additional staff
    • Overtime
    • Relocation company cost
    • Risk identification
    • Contingency plan
    • Possible server replacement or diversification
    • Cooling requirements
    • Infrastructure acquisitions and modifications
    • Wiring/cabling
  • Schedule all deployment and re-installation events
  • Verify inventory of all hardware and virtual system elements, noting:
    • Equipment condition
    • Size
    • Weight
    • Serial numbers
  • Review and update the full system diagram

2) Pre-Deployment Documentation, Warranty, and Insurance Coverage

  • Review equipment manufacturer warranties
    • Current coverage
    • Possible limitations affecting installation or removal of servers
  • Verify and review internal insurance policies
  • Verify and understand mover’s insurance coverage terms and conditions

3) Pre-Server Deployment

  • Prepare the target server area
    • Network connectivity
      • Ensure Internet connectivity
      • Layout/server room diagram
      • Network cabling
      • Power management
      • Rack placement
      • VPNs
      • DNS
    • Prepare in-house deployment participants
      • Safety procedure training
      • Training session/rehearsal of the server deployment protocol, including:
        • Labeling and packing equipment
        • Cables
        • Rails
      • Pair experienced partners with first-timers
      • Remind staff of availability and importance of the data center lift for server:
        • Installation/removals
        • Transportation
        • Positioning
      • Arm leaders with program timelines and server room diagrams
      • Advise staff and clients of upcoming system downtime
      • Schedule project manager to work onsite from start through sign-off

4) Preparing In-House Hardware and Software

  • Review and update diagrams and lists for each rack
    • Verify in-cabinet physical availability
    • Verify safe stored backup copy
  • Verify 100% backup of virtual assets
  • Identify and schedule upgrades to perform during migration
  • Inventory all hardware and virtual system elements
  • Identify and remove unnecessary abandoned cables
  • Charge and inspect server lift
  • Verify truck availability
  • Verify availability of impact, moisture, and other hazard-resistant packing materials

5) Execution of Server Deployment

  • Mirror power requirements when changing cabinets
  • Shut down servers, storage, and networking devices according to established protocol
  • Inspect, clean, repair, and re-inventory all items prior to reloading racks
  • Project manager sign-off on hardware list and scheduled tests once all items are deployed and inventoried

Conclusion

Fortunately, while the actual move is fast and furious, it is also short-lived. Most of the effort lies in effective planning. Help yourself and your coworkers to avoid as much stress as possible by investing time and effort in collaborative planning. Keep in mind that skillful coordination and cross-device collaboration will minimize potential difficulties that could arise. Bringing in a specialized consultant or migration coordinator for the project can help your team avoid common pitfalls.The payoff will be well worth it.

Of course, you will keep safety at the forefront during the entire process. A safe move is a smooth move, which, in turn, reduces the risk of downtime, injury, or damaged equipment. And start early – it’s worth taking the time to do it right.

serverlift vs. racklift functionality

ServerLIFT vs. Racklift – Comparison of Functionality

This is the first installment of an ongoing series examining data center equipment. We will take a look at the stark differences between ServerLIFT machines and other devices, and assess how they function as server handling tools.  Our first comparison is of ServerLIFT vs. Racklift. The comparison is categorized into the 3 essential functions of a server-handling device:

  1. Transportation
  2. Positioning
  3. Installation/Removal.

***It should be noted that “general-purpose” lifts —those not designed specifically for data center use—are not able to handle all three functions as described. Additionally, some lifts marketed as “purpose-built” do not effectively solve all 3 problems, exposing their users to unnecessary risks.

To counteract any false information provided elsewhere, a research team compared how ServerLIFT and Racklift data center lifts perform in a series of tests. That study was conducted by the Product and Competitive Testing team at Arizona State University (with input from Industrial Design and Engineering teams).

Here were the key characteristics of a data center lift that were analyzed in the ASU study:

  • unit height and width
  • platform reach
  • floor clearance
  • mechanical safety
  • engineering
  • ergonomics

(This evaluation is model non-specific—it applies to all ServerLIFT models and Racklift models equally, whether one relies on manual hand-cranking or an electric motor, for example.)

Function #1 – Transportation ServerLIFT vs. Racklift

Speed

A data center lift must move efficiently for server installation. From starting point to the target, the Racklift is slower and more cumbersome. A ServerLIFT device moves through corridors 25% faster.

Navigation

A properly designed data center lift must maneuver down narrow aisles and turn smoothly around corners. The Racklift RL600 series requires a wider aisle (48 – 60” [121 – 152 cm]) for maneuvering and cannot turn smoothly around corners. The ServerLIFT unit maneuvers comfortably in a narrower 36” (91 cm) aisle and can turn corners smoothly.

Access to Racks on Both Sides of the Aisle

Because most data centers have narrow aisles, the lift should be able to access server racks on both sides of the aisle without the need to rotate the device. With the Racklift device, servers can only be loaded in (or slid out) from the front, forcing operators to rotate the device to face and approach the rack. In order to work on both sides of a server, operators must therefore squeeze between the cabinets on the other side of the aisle and the lift. To then work at a rack on the other side of the aisle, the Racklift needs to be turned 180° the other way. (which is not always possible, depending on aisle width)

The ServerLIFT “Easy Glide” platform allows side-to-side installation, which gives the operator access to the rack on either side of the aisle. A ServerLIFT device never needs to be turned around for the operator to switch and work on the other side of the aisle.

racklift aisle access

With Racklift, there’s only rack access on one side of the aisle

serverlift rack access

With a ServerLIFT device, you can access the rack via both sides of the aisle due to the gliding shelf

 

Fitting Through Doors & Entryways

Data center lifts should be able to move equipment from one room to another through standard door frames and elevator entryways. Racklift units measure 82.75” (201 cm) tall, so they cannot fit through standard doors and elevator entryways that tend to measure anywhere from 78 to 82 inches (198-208 cm) high. To compensate, you’d need to tip the lift to move it through, risking serious injury.

ServerLIFT units measure 69.5 inches (176.5 cm) high with its tower fully retracted (the SL-1000X model is 78 inches or 198 cm), so it’s able to pass through both standard door frames and elevator entrances with room to spare.

serverlift doorway access

ServerLIFT devices fit through doorways

racklift doorway

Racklift cannot fit through standard doorways

 

Operator Observations

In the ASU study, both test operators found the Racklift difficult to navigate. As the report states, “Driving the RackLift was much harder for the two users. They had difficulty turning, stopping and braking the lift. The visibility was decreased significantly when the server was added and the handles were not very useful.”

As for the ServerLIFT unit, maneuvering it “was generally easy for both users except for some minor details.”

Clearing Obstructions

A data center lift must be able to navigate over obstructions without damaging equipment or risking injury to the operator. The Racklift has a clearance of only half an inch (1.25 cm.) This low clearance prevents it from safely passing over power cord channels, ramps, and door thresholds, even when it is not loaded. This makes it likely to tip over, putting the onboard server, the operator, and surrounding equipment in serious danger.

The ServerLIFT device, with nearly a full inch (2.5 cm) of ground clearance, safely passes over all types of obstructions, when loaded or unloaded, without tipping.

racklift clearance

Racklift clearance of only half an inch (1.25 cm.)

serverlift clearance

ServerLIFT clearance of nearly a full inch (2.5 cm)

 

Function #2 – PositioningServerLIFT vs. Racklift

Placing Servers into Racks

The ideal data center lift should help to install servers and other equipment into any rack and every rack unit. The RackLift device only reaches to the top of standard 42U racks.

On the other hand, with its extendable tower and modular platform accessories, the ServerLIFT data center lift can safely support devices up to the top of a 62U rack (112 inches, or 284.5 cm).

racklift height

RackLift device only reaches to the top of standard 42U racks

serverlift height

Serverlift device reaches top of 62U racks

Server handling lifts must also maintain a level platform. Post-to-post alignment and angled installations for slotted and drop-in rails is also required. Racklift’s extending shelf positions equipment in the rack but cannot adjust the angle of the server. The operator must do so manually, both for side-to-side alignment and for drop-in rails. This is made even more difficult by the Racklift frame, which places a tech at high risk for pinched fingers or pulled muscles.

Only ServerLIFT devices offer control over the alignment of servers. Any ServerLIFT device can angle equipment into slotted and drop-in rails using the RS-500X Rail Lift.

racklift safety

Racklift’s extending shelf positions equipment in the rack but cannot adjust the angle of the server

serverlift installations

Any ServerLIFT device can angle equipment into slotted and drop-in rails

 

Function #3 – Installation/RemovalServerLIFT vs. Racklift

The 3rd essential function of a data center lift is to assist with installing and removing servers in a safe and efficient manner. Both the ServerLIFT and RackLift provide physical support for devices into and out of server cabinets.

However, the Racklift falls short in a number of associated categories, including operator access, stability, and support.

Access to Server During Install

There should be clear access to the server during installation into the rack. On the Racklift, this is not the case. The server is placed inside a four-post frame. This frame, along with stabilizing straps and the winch, obstructs or completely blocks visibility and access, forcing the operator to reach inside the frame to perform a dangerous server installation or removal.

ServerLIFT devices provide completely clear and safe access to the server during the installation process. Rather than housing the server in a semi-enclosed frame, the ServerLIFT platform supports the server forward and clear of its single vertical mast and lifting mechanisms, which are at the rear and out of the way. This leaves all sides of the server open, unobstructed, and available to the operator.

racklift access

The Racklift device obstructs or completely blocks visibility and access, forcing the operator to perform a dangerous server installation

serverlift access

ServerLIFT devices provide completely clear and safe access to the server during the installation process

Lift Stabilization During Install

Data center lifts must be stabilized for safety at all times while equipment is being lifted, removed from or installed into racks. Because lifts are on rolling wheels, if they aren’t well-secured, the lift will move when equipment is sliding on or off of the platform, creating serious danger for the operator and the equipment.

To secure a Racklift, the operator must spend time strapping the device to the cabinet at four different points and applying the brake locks attached to the two rear wheels. The Racklift is dependent on the rack for support. The rack itself is often only secured to other racks in the aisle, and is filled with expensive servers. Without a rack, the Racklift and its equipment are in constant danger for rolling or tipping. This is why the Racklift is always shown being used with more than one person – one person is needed to stabilize it, and one to operate it.

racklift secure

Without a rack, the Racklift and its equipment are in constant danger for rolling or tipping. This is why the Racklift is always shown being used with more than one person.

serverlift stable

The ServerLIFT device remains independently stable, and it will not move at all, with the brake on

With a ServerLIFT device, securing the lift requires the application of a single brake. The machine is locked down and rear wheels are lifted off of the floor. With this feature, the ServerLIFT device remains independently stable, and it will not move at all when heavy servers are slid on or off it, providing constant, steady, reliable support. The brake pedal is large, easy to engage, and fully accessible at all times at the back of the unit.

Server Stabilization During Install

Both RackLift and ServerLIFT devices provide horizontal shelf support into the rack, and RackLift even goes as far as providing an additional 14 inches of support. However, that extra shelf support length comes at the cost of extra device width, making it difficult to use in an aisle narrower than 60 inches (152 cm) and impossible to use in increasingly common 36-inch aisles.

ServerLIFT’s built-in Easy Glide Shelf adds 6 inches of lateral movement to the left and right into the rack, allowing operators to walk around the unit and work comfortably even in aisles as narrow as 3 feet wide.

ServerLIFT vs. RackLIFT : Weight Capacity

RackLIFT states that its RL600S hand-cranked lift has a greater weight capacity at 600 pounds (272 kg) than the 350 pounds (158.7 kg) capacity of the ServerLIFT SL-350X hand-cranked device. This does not tell the whole story. First, lifting servers with a weight over 300 pounds (let alone 600 pounds) by hand cranking requires a tremendous amount of arm and shoulder strength. It is difficult work, and the amount of both effort and force risks injury to the operator.

That is why ServerLIFT rates all of its server-handling solutions appropriately. We offer data center lift options in 500-pound (226 kg) and 1,000-pound (454 kg) capacities with electric winches, not the arm and shoulder of a data center technician. The ServerLIFT SL-350X device that Racklift compares to its RL600S model was designed for a 350-pound weight limit because, as a manual hand-crank lift, it shouldn’t be used to lift greater weight. Manual hand cranking above the 350-lb. limit poses inappropriate levels of physical strain, even for occasional use.

racklift crank

With Racklift, lifting servers with a weight over 300 pounds (let alone 600 pounds) by hand cranking requires a tremendous amount of arm and shoulder strength, risking injury to the operator

serverlift operate

The ServerLIFT SL-350X device was designed for a 350-pound weight limit because manual hand cranking above the 350-lb. limit poses inappropriate levels of physical strain

 

When choosing a data center lift, make sure that you choose a device that can handle 100% of the essential functions. Beware of misleading or even false claims by manufacturers that call their devices “purpose built.” A purpose-built device means that it was designed to handle all of the functional aspects of day-to-day data center operations. It cannot fall short in safely completing all tasks, forcing operators to risk an accident or injury.

To read more from ASU’s independent study, click here.

Data Center Lift Cost and the Hidden ROI

Anyone who has used a purpose-built server handling lift in data center operations immediately understands how it provides convenience and improvements in data center safety and efficiency.

However, when purchasing a purpose-built data center lift, it is easy to miss the hidden and ongoing cost savings. To get approval for an assisted lifting device, your IT staff will need to validate the lift’s return on investment (ROI).

Operational Savings

Our customers have told us that their data center lift has positively affected their bottom line in the following ways:

Fewer Staff Members per Install

Once the IT staff begins using a server handling lift, the data center starts saving money. Instead of allocating three or four employees to help lift and steady a large server for an installation, the data center can assign one tech to do it single-handedly. The other employees can focus on other critical tasks such as software development, customer service, or network configuration. Fewer people get pulled off their assigned duties, making everyone more productive.

Data centers can avoid overtaxing their employees with cross-over shifts because one tech and a server handling lift can do the job on demand, instead of waiting for a second pair of hands on a shift change. That allows managers to cover 24-hour days and maintain uptime with the right number of employees on a shift, rather than pulling folks from other areas or other shifts to help out (often at double-time pay).

Savings from Reduced Installation Time

A server handling tool in a data center improves server installation efficiency by 300%. Techs can remove, transport, position, and install servers in a fraction of the time it takes to do it manually. Data center leaders who empower their teams with equipment handling solutions generate savings in reduced labor costs all year long.

During large-scale migrations, the savings add up quickly. Imagine the time saved from faster installations combined with the ability to transport multiple servers simultaneously.

Savings from Improved Data Center Safety and Health

Equipment handling is streamlined through the use of server handling devices. Employee satisfaction, attendance, and retention go up significantly. Operators doing their jobs with the aid of a server handling lift feel supported by their employer because they were given the right tool for the job. Research at Google showed an amazing 37% increase in productivity when the company “invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction.” Economists from the University of Warwick demonstrated that “happiness made people around 12% more productive.”

Greater Savings from Avoiding Serious Accidents

A lift prevents expensive accidents. Staff injuries mean employee downtime. Equipment damage means hardware may have to be replaced and can be offline. The entire network and related services are at risk.

Serious injuries can result in an employee filing for Workman’s Compensation. Be prepared to dedicate a bunch of time to employee claims and remediation. Furthermore, insurance underwriters use a business’ claim history to determine its experience modification factor (e-mod), according to Workman’s Comp Essentials.

When a company reduces claims, it may receive a discount on its premiums.

One of ServerLIFT’s major customers, a large military contractor, understood the potential savings imparted by a lift after a work-related injury on their grounds resulted in a lawsuit. The cost of a data center lift – or even many such lifts – was minor compared to the cost of the lawsuit, related downtime, and the operational interference it caused.

When data center staff see the economic and personal benefits associated with a purpose-built equipment lift, they encourage each other to use the lift. The culture of safety and best practices spreads throughout the workplace, distinguishing these businesses from their peers and making operations more cost-effective.

Cost Savings of a Data Center Lift in Colocation Facilities

Colocation facilities can reap both the savings and added revenue benefits when they use assisted server handling lifts for their operations. Employees and your customers enjoy the convenience of using them.

Customers at a colocation facility want to get in and out with the least effort possible. Imagine the response to a nearby colo facility that opens its doors and is completely armed with server handling lifts for their users’ convenience and safety. This gives a major advantage to the colo facility with the data center lift when compared to the facility without one.

Purpose-built equipment lifts in the data center generate greater staff productivity and savings in labor. In a situation where customers come into contact with the lifts, it can easily result in a higher conversion of leads to customers. Once your customers use the device, the word will spread. That means more customers for your facility and higher-density use of space for the operation, which reduces fixed costs per dollar of revenue.

________

Understanding and explaining the benefits of a server handling lift in the workplace goes far beyond its bullet-point list of features. It’s a worthwhile investment, not an expense. The downstream implications of a purpose-built data center lift acquisition include continually improving the convenience, safety, efficiency, and ROI for business procedures and operations.

data center relocation

Data Center Relocation Company vs. Do-It-Yourself Migration: Considerations and Hidden Pitfalls

If your data center has a major server relocation project coming up, it is likely to over-tax your staff and resources. Deployments consume many hours of paid professional time and expose your staff and equipment to avoidable risks.

As the data center’s manager or migration project lead, you have two options:

1. Bring in a Data Center Relocation Company
2. Do-It-Yourself (use your own staff)

Option 1: Using a Data Center Relocation Company

Stephanie Faris, on National Computer Warehouse Services’ blog, encourages data center managers to outsource server relocation projects. She gives three reasons:

1. Years of Experience

“Professionals from a server relocation company, unlike most data center staff, migrate data centers daily and may even execute several moves in a single day. That makes them experts on knowing what to expect,” explains Faris.

Data center relocation companies already have protocols developed for efficient migrations. For example, they know that they will have time to label components while the servers spin down.

2. Reduce Liability

Your data center’s insurance policy covers day-to-day routine ops, but does it cover the liability of an employee getting in an accident while moving one of your servers in his or her car? Professional data center relocation companies will have insurance to cover the risks of their deployment exercise from start to finish. Injuries reported on workers’ compensation claims cause an average of nine days away from work, says the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Data center relocation companies train their employees to avoid injuries.

3. Focus on Other Things

Most businesses have just enough staff to cover their data center needs. Your day-to-day operations can suffer if the people responsible for those operations are distracted by a data center move. Contracting a data center relocation company allows your staff to stay focused and free of prioritization conflicts. In this scenario, their involvement is typically limited to answering mover questions and giving them direction.

What Do Professional Data Center Moving Companies Do?

Professional data center moving companies organize, label, protect, and track everything they move so that the process proceeds smoothly from removal, transport, and installation. This requires extensive planning, packaging, labeling, and know-how.

Data Center Relocation Companies Label Everything

Shawn Simon, of the National Computer Warehouse Services, says,  “Labeling is one of the most important measures to keep time loss at a minimum. NCWS labels everything, and when labeling, be sure that the label is in a secure area that is easily identified when moving (and so it doesn’t fall off when being packaged).”

There’s no time to figure out what label goes to what attachment rail because a label fell off. Faris explained, “Often times with rails, for example, the client will opt to not have NCWS handle this aspect. We show up and there are 150 different rail sets or various makes and models thrown into a box. This will add considerable time and frustration to your staff at the destination.”

Just as professional server moving companies judiciously label all items for proper identification at their destination, they map out the layout of server cabinets and, within cabinets, the destination rack elevations for each component of the cabinet. Properly mapped and labelled racks and components ensure efficient repopulation.

Data Center Relocation Companies Protect Equipment

Data Center Relocation CompanyInsurance covers damaged or lost equipment, but losses affect premiums and waste valuable time and effort. Packaging and caution during the moving process takes less time than a trip down to the hardware store or IT shop.

IT equipment needs special protection from static, shock, physical vibrations, drops, physical blows, and moisture. Pros should know which items need specific types of protection and the best methods for achieving it.

In addition, professional data center movers understand the importance of checking warranties on IT equipment before moving it. Some equipment warranties may require specific conditions, such as relocation only by approved personnel or an advanced relocation notification. Pros should verify which pieces of equipment might have conditional warranties before pulling them from a server cabinet.

Verify Before Outsourcing

Not every data center relocation company has the equipment or training to do the job safely and efficiently, so choosing the right one matters. In fact, a lot of regular moving companies market themselves as having data center relocation-specific expertise, when they really don’t.

For example, they may not use purposefully designed server lifts, and they may improvise by pulling heavy equipment with pure muscle work or traditional rigging methods. Before you sign a contract, ask them for specifics about their data center moving experience. Find out what they do differently in a data center move and get multiple references to call.

If they do not have or rent server lifts, insist that they do or use yours as a loaner to avoid accidents with your equipment during depopulations and repopulations. They should be insured, but you don’t want an injury in your data center and you certainly don’t want to add “server replacement,” “data recovery,” or “insurance claim” to your to-do list. The lift will save them time on server removal and installation, reducing the risk of an accident on your watch.

Option 2: Using Your Own Data Center Staff to Migrate Servers

If you chose the first option, you need a solid plan for the transition. Keeping your customers happy means maximum uptime by minimizing the risk of outages. Your IT staff may be used to moving individual components occasionally, but they may not have the requisite experience to depopulate and migrate a room full of server racks

Migrating a data center is not the same as migrating many servers individually at different times. The former requires the right kind of planning, strength, stamina, and tools. Make sure to schedule plenty of time for planning, execution, and closing the migration project, and don’t overlook the following:

1. Make sure that your data center has enough server lifts
If your data center has a server lift, your daily operations probably already involve regular server migration. Your staff may already have experience with modest deployments.

They should already be using a lift that enables them to install/remove servers, position them, and transport  them — the three essential functions of a data center lift — on their own. But, how big is the data center? How quickly does it need to be depopulated? Will a server lift be needed at the new location before they finish using the one at the old location?

If by answering these questions you realize that the number of server lifts you have is great for day-to-day operations, but insufficient for this migration project, you might need to consider buying or temporarily renting additional server lifts. Arm your staff with enough assisted lifting devices to handle the weight of the equipment and the scale of the migration.

2. Be realistic about what they can handle

Your data center staff may already uninstall servers and disassemble racks, cabinets, cable trays, and even raised floors for routine maintenance. As long as a relocation does not require complex migration protocols outside their normal routine, you’ll know that they can successfully complete a move, with the right amount of planning and equipment.

3. Provide adequate safety training for your staff

Data Center Server InstallTrain your staff to enable them to efficiently and safely move heavy equipment with a server lift. Insist that they use the lift even when handling lightweight servers.

Without a lift, and especially under a time crunch, dealing with any rack-mounted equipment by hand is tricky and potentially very dangerous. Likewise train them on OSHA’s specifications for manual lifting, because they’ll likely move items other than IT equipment.

Have them use proper attire such as good work gloves; closed, hard-toed shoes; and no loose clothing. Insist on scheduled breaks for water, food, and rest to ensure that they don’t burn out and hurt themselves, the equipment, or others.

4. Employ professional movers for the facility transfer

Once the racks are depopulated, all your equipment is packaged up, and everything is ready to be moved to the new location, use professional movers. Even if you used your own staff to get to this point, they shouldn’t be asked to transport everything to the new facility. Movers are highly trained, insured, and experienced at rigging and moving from one location to the next. Let them do what they do best. Never subject your techs to work which they are not trained to do, nor are in proper physical condition to do that work safely.

Potential Pitfalls of Either Option

Security

Whether you plan your move yourself or with a data center relocation company, you must streamline your data center’s chain of custody and security protocols. Data center migrations expose equipment, data, and staff to situations that can result in their damage or permanent loss.

When you expose expensive equipment full of invaluable data to theft, misplacement, drops, bumps, and bangs, you place the company’s assets, the stockholders’ security, and your professional reputation on the line. Security and continuity begin with planning, and you should involve yourself in that process.

Shawn Simon of NCWS also recommends splitting up freight: “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket! Consider your total inventory and split your load if you can. Our belief is that if you have a 53 [foot] trailer of packaged equipment, the load should be split into to [two] 26 [foot] trucks. If there were to be a catastrophic event, this would help to minimize loss. Also depending on logistics, often times 26 [foot] trucks are a bit easier to navigate in tight quarters and lift gates help as well.”

Data centers often overlook the physical logistics, he says. And, when dealing with sensitive electronic equipment – especially servers –  the truck must be air-ride equipped no matter how short the trip.

Safety First

You need to protect your equipment, infrastructure, and staff. Most data center employees spend relatively little time migrating entire banks of servers. When moving a single server here and there, they might sometimes ignore routine safety procedures. However, when facing the rigorous demands of a big data center migration, safety protocols are absolutely critical.

Take precautions to protect them, your equipment, and your infrastructure. Stephanie Faris recommends keeping three things in mind:

1. Know Proper Lift Procedures. Lifting, moving, and carrying heavy servers and other IT equipment should be done with a server lift. Make sure that you train staff on the importance of using an assisted lifting device. Even when lifting items under 50 lbs. (23 kg), employees should have proper training and understand how to lift safely.

2. Invest in Supplies and Equipment. Professional movers use back support belts and assisted lifting devices. Your employees should too. As part of their safety training, they should understand how they help and how to properly use them.

3. Keep Walking Areas Clear. When a data center migration begins, things get a bit chaotic. Have someone walk rounds daily to ensure obstacle-free walkways. Falls accounted for 25% of fatal work-related injuries, throughout the U.S., according to the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2016. Falls, slips, and trips accounted for 19% of the nonfatal injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you have a data center move on the horizon, hopefully criteria in this post will help you plan appropriately, whether you are performing the move using your own staff or a professional data center relocation company. Either way, ensure that you have enough server lifts on hand for all involved persons, and train everyone who will cross the data center threshold. Show your supervisors that you value the safety and efficiency of everyone who enters your data center as much as, if not more than, the data itself.

Thanks to Mark Evanko from Bruns-Pak for his help in contributing to this article.

How strong should a server handling lift be?

How Strong Should a Server Handling Lift Be?

Strength refers to “the ability of something to support a force or weight without breaking,” according to the MacMillan Dictionary.  But, when we refer to the strength of data center lifts, we’re talking about their ability to perform at their best. Can the device handle servers to carry out the three baseline functions of a data center lift?

  1. Transporting Servers
  2. Positioning Servers
  3. Assisting with Installing (or Removing) Servers

How strong should a data center lift be? You want a lift that’s strong enough to allow a single IT tech to carry out all of these functions safely with your heaviest server.

With a Strong Server Handling Lift, One Tech Does the Work of Three

Using a data center lift that’s strong enough, one person should be able to lift, transport, and install or remove a server, without any help. How strong does a server handling device need to be, to be able do that?

A Data Center Lift Must Be Strong Enough for Your Heaviest Equipment

A data center lift should have a weight capacity rating greater than your heaviest server or switch. If you plan to move several pieces of equipment at the same time, the lift should have a capacity larger than the combined weight of those pieces of equipment.

Suppose that you have a 75-pound (34 kg) Lenovo 5462EDU server that you move frequently. You also have a modular blade or switch chassis system, such as a fully populated HPE BladeSystem c7000 or a Cisco Nexus 7000 18-Slot Switch, each of which can weigh 500 pounds (227 kg) or more.

You know that your tech can safely install the 75-pound server by hand with help or on his/her own with a light-duty lift. However, if you want your tech to do their work without the help of another and also be able to move the chassis system as efficiently as possible (without having to remove some or all of the blade or system components), you’re going to need a strong lift, rated somewhere between 500 and 1,000 pounds (227 – 453.5 kg).  

That’s how strong a server handling device must be to meet the challenges you face every day when operating your data center.  If your data center lift weight capacity rating exceeds the weight of your heaviest equipment, your IT tech will never need help lifting, transporting, or installing or removing a server.

A Server Handling Lift Must Be Stronger than You

When dealing with smaller, lighter rack mounted equipment, strength still matters. Even when steadying a 35-pound (16 kg) server inside a server cabinet, attaching it to its mounting hardware with the other hand is an Olympic feat. Even if it can be done, a data center lift can do that same job, safer, steadier, and better.

Why Pay Three Employees to Do the Work of One?

As data center technology advances, techs must handle more and more servers on their own. For example, Facebook data center operations staffers “can manage at least 20,000 servers, and for some admins the number can be as high as 26,000 systems,” reported Facebook Data Center Operations Director, Delfina Eberly. That means that more and more data centers will have their admins working each shift alone.

Data center managers on a tight budget want to avoid calling in extra help to migrate or switch out a heavy server. Extra hours, and maybe even paying overtime or holiday pay, won’t go over well with the chief financial officer. On the other hand, risking an employee injury or damaged equipment due to an accident while moving a server won’t go over well with anyone.

Imagine this scenario:

It’s 3:05 in the morning on a Saturday, and one of your critical servers just went out, knocking out the network or forcing you to run solely on the backup. You have a replacement server, but it weighs over 70 pounds (32 kg). Even with someone steadying it, it’s a bear. The last time you switched this server out, two of your coworkers helped you haul it over to the cabinet, line it up, and line up the rails. You pinched your fingers trying to get it into the rail.

Tonight, both of the other techs just got off a double shift because they were migrating equipment to the new data center, and your supervisor worked a double shift with them. You’re the only person in the building. Do you want to call your supervisor and wake him up after he’s worked a double shift?

You don’t need to call anyone. The purchasing department delivered a new data center lift just last week, and your coworkers used it this week for the data center migration. When you clocked in, you noticed that even though your colleagues used it to populate a new bank of cabinets during that double shift, it still had more than enough juice to keep going. You’re on it.

Before 3:45 AM, the networks’ backup is, well, back up. Your supervisor’s still asleep, and you’re pouring yourself the night’s first cup of coffee. Take a break and enjoy the cup of joe; you’ve earned it!

In your data center, you want to keep IT staff to a minimum and avoid dangerous server handling by hand. Make sure that you arm your staff with the tools they need to do their job – a server handling device that they can use in any environment and in any situation to handle server transport, positioning, installation, and removal, without having additional staff on hand.

Are Motorized Data Center Lifts Stronger?

Both hand-cranked and motorized lifts can handle heavy loads using similar force-generating mechanisms to achieve results. Motorization does not necessarily make a lift stronger, but it reduces the amount of user effort required to achieve the lift. Consequently, there’s something else to think about. Can the lift safely perform throughout its baseline functions and protect your staff from injuries due to overexertion and stressful repetitive motions?

Here’s where the motorized server handling device does give users a big advantage over hand-cranked alternatives. A battery-powered motor works faster and longer (and without complaint) than a person can comfortably turn a lift crank. It achieves the same work faster, but with no physical strain on the user. A properly spec’d motor driving a lift system can raise and lower 1,000 pounds (454 kg) in seconds. Because the motorized lift does the work more efficiently and avoids fatiguing IT staff, they are recommended for the vast majority of data center operations.

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As a general rule, stronger and electrically powered is better when selecting a data center lifting tool. However, smaller operations where IT equipment is rarely added or swapped out can get by, using a lower-capacity hand-cranked lift. Managers should take into account their heaviest anticipated piece of rack-mounted equipment, exceeding that capacity as much as possible to plan for the future. And the heavier the maximum load, the more important it is to use a powered motor-drive data center lift, regardless of how frequently servers are moved. Mechanical advantage only goes so far, and lifting very heavy loads using a hand-crank is not advisable. Buying a single large data center lift that has all your operational needs covered might, in the long run, help avoid having to replace it later on.