This is the first piece of a two-part article.
A thorough site visit of potential co-location vendors should be conducted after the RFP or evaluation process, when a shortlist of vendors has been determined.
While it can generally be assumed that a vendor has provided true and adequate information on the proposal or during the evaluation process, it is still essential to visit each facility on the shortlist, and meet the vendor to add an extra layer of confidence to the final decision.
Key Selection Criteria
When visiting the potential vendor’s co-location facilities, it is important to understand what to look for both before and during the site visit. While not every tile needs to be overturned, there should be some level of due diligence performed when meeting the vendors and taking a walk through the facilities. Use the following information, along with the ITA Premium, “Data Center Co-location Site Visit and Evaluation Checklist,” to ensure that the organization has all the information it needs to make the final decision.
(For Data Center Exchange Readers: Access a Free Data Center Co-Location RFP Template.)
Before the Site Visit
Before visiting the vendor’s facility, research can be done regarding the geographical location of the facility. Ensure that the country and/or city is economically stable before visiting the site. In some extreme cases, this may even eliminate a vendor from the shortlist.
The city or country the facility is located within should be economically stable. Unstable economic conditions can increase the organization’s total operating expenses over time. Consider the following before making the trip to visit a vendor:
- Financial stability. Exchange rate swings can increase total cost of co-location, and high-unemployment rates can make the area undesirable for more qualified workers.
- Political stability. Instances such as service disruptions from any political instability that is caused by poor economic conditions can affect the co-location vendor’s availability.
During the Site Visit
When visiting the vendor’s facility, consider the following as the organization’s representative(s) tour the building:
Access Control and Physical Security
It is important that the vendor’s site is adequately protected by physical security features and access control. Look into the following when visiting a site.
- Staffed operations control center. The vendor should have an operations control center in the data center that is staffed with employees. Although not all vendors may have staff on-site 24/7, they should have staff available, or on call in case of an emergency 24/7.
- Monitoring. Staff should conduct walk-arounds to monitor the facility on a regular basis.
- Cameras. There should be cameras present at the entrance, and all exits of the building. Cameras should also be present in the equipment room itself.
- Card access. The data center should be secured with card access that allows only card holders to enter and exit the data center area of the building and any support rooms. Cards should only allow entrants to exit for the same doors they entered. In cases of larger data centers, they may only provide access to designated areas where a client’s equipment is located.
- Limited access to data center. The data center should only be accessible through the main door of the equipment room. There should not be any access to the data center through any support rooms (loading docks, build room, storage room etc.). Emergency exits may exist in the data center but should be for exiting only.
- Door locks. All doors should contain secure locks within the data center building.
- Cabinet locks. All cabinets belonging to individual organizations should contain unique locks to ensure that each customer’s servers are secured in their own locked cage.
- External doors. There should not be any doors within the data center that lead to the outdoors. However, emergency exits may exist.
- Windows. There should not be any windows in the data center. This includes outdoor facing windows, and windows facing anywhere into the building.
- Outdoor walls. The safest place for the equipment room of a data center is in the middle of the facility. There should not be any walls that are connected directly to the outdoors.
- Exposed roof. The roof within the data center should not be exposed. In most instances, there should be ceiling tiles to protect equipment.
Fire Protection and Prevention
The vendor’s site should be protected from any potential fires.
Most fire protection and prevention is governed by the Authority Having Jurisdiction in the location, however, extra precautions such as a clean agent fire suppression system can differentiate vendor offerings.
- Safety procedures. All procedures should be documented and well planned in case of an emergency. The representative from the organization should be able to look over existing documents to ensure that a plan is in place.
- Emergency exit. There should be at least one emergency exit in the data center in case of a fire or other incident. Exits should be clearly marked.
- Smoke and heat detection systems. The data center should contain smoke detectors as well as heat detectors for early fire detection and prevention.
- Alarm and signaling systems. The data center should contain both alarm and signaling systems, in case of an emergency, to notify personnel in the data center and surrounding building as well as the fire department in case of a fire.
- Emergency Power Off (EPO). The data center should contain an EPO that is visible in case of emergency. The EPO should also be protected so that it cannot be hit accidentally.
- Sprinkler system. A sprinkler system should be installed in the data center. Pre-action sprinkler systems are a more ideal solution as they are less likely to leak or be set off prematurely.
- Fire extinguishers. Fire extinguishers should be placed in, and around the data center. Check fire extinguisher labels to ensure that they are maintained and checked on a regular basis.
- Other fire protection. In addition to a sprinkler system, a clean agent fire suppression system should be present in the data center. Although they are not mandatory, they are beneficial for redundancy and an added layer of protection against fire. Check the clean agent tanks to ensure they are maintained, tested, and checked on a regular basis by the supplier or the co-location vendor.
Next: Facility, Power and Cooling
The state in which the facility is kept can tell a lot about a vendor. The facility should be clean, organized and should be able to supply the organization with room to grow. Consider the following when assessing the general state of the building.
- Cabling should be organized in a neat and tidy method. In addition to visible cables in the data center, have a look at cabling under the raised floor. The vendor should also have a comprehensive cable management system.
- Age of facility. Data center facilities have a general lifespan of seven to ten years before rebuild or refresh. The same should be said for a co-location vendor. Check the age of the facility (including HVAC, electrical systems etc.) and ask about any plans for refresh in the future. In the case of refresh plans, inquire about construction plans and how it may affect the clients located in the facility.
- Expansion room. The co-location vendor should have room in the facility in case a need arises for expansion. The organizations need to ensure that if they grow there will be room in the vendor’s facility to accommodate that growth. Organizations should also look for the availability of contiguous space.
- Lighting. Adequate lighting should be supplied in the data center for operational and safety reasons. Emergency lighting should be supplied by the UPS/generator in case of a power failure.
- Support rooms such as the build room, storage room, loading dock and electrical room should be separated from the equipment room to protect it from dust and debris, electromagnetic interference, and intruders.
- Office space. It is beneficial for the organization to have office space allocated to them within the co-location vendor site in case the organization’s personnel or technology providers need to work within the location. Office space may consist of a room to work in for the duration of the visit for multiple clients.
- Cleanliness. The data center should be clean and free from dust or clutter (including cardboard boxes, extra equipment, etc.). The data center should be cleaned on a regular basis by a trusted source.
One of the main reasons an organization chooses to outsource their data center facility is to increase uptime and decrease costs associated with power.
- Power usage monitoring. The data center should monitor power usage on a per client basis to ensure that it does not reach dangerously high levels. This is also beneficial for billing purposes as these facilities may also be able to bill for the actual amount of power used instead of a monthly amount.
- Energy availability. The data center should have enough power capacity toaccommodate current client needs and future growth. They should have power supplied by multiple sources in case one is to go down. Assess any last mile issues for power like substations, and multiple grid connections.
- Local energy costs of the vendor site location can give insight into expected monthly costs for the organization in the case that the vendor charges on a metered rate. If energy costs fluctuate often, or are exceptionally higher than other geographic regions, the organization will want to incorporate this into cost considerations.
Cooling is one of the most important and expensive aspects of a data center. It protects equipment from overheating and can account for up to 50% in power costs in most data centers. Because co-location providers house many servers, it is important that they supply enough cooling in the data center along with an adequate redundant supply.
- Cooling redundancy. The vendor should have enough cooling redundancy on site to keep the data center cool in case of a HVAC failure. Units should be tested regularly.
- Room temperature. As a general rule of thumb, the temperature of the facility should be kept between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3-23.9 degrees Celsius). Check thermostats in the data center to ensure it is kept at this level.
- Humidity. The data center facility should contain humidifiers to keep humidity to a minimum. Any moisture in the air can damage equipment. Check that the humidifiers in the data center are monitored and maintained on a regular basis.
- Hot and cold aisles help to filter hot air out of the data center and contain cooling. Check aisles and ceiling tiles to ensure the environment is conducive to hot and cold aisles and has proper ventilation.
- Perforated tiles help to provide spot cooling in areas that may be higher in temperature at one point in time. Ensure the site has perforated tiles that can be moved throughout the data center to ensure that all spots can be reached if needed.
- High density issues. Check to ensure that there are no impediments to high density implementation within the data center.
- State of HVAC. The HVAC systems should be intact with no visible damage. HVACS should be monitored and maintained on a regular basis.
Next week: Assessing standby power, site access and risks.
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