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Eight things people forget when buying infrastructure

IT people start on their journeys through infrastructure provision lacking one fundamental thing: experience. You emerge from school, college or university knowing something about technology (unless of course you did one of those nancy IT degrees that doesn't teach you anything about proper IT, in which case your usefulness to me is carrying things and making tea) but with none of the experience that us old farts have learned over the years by finding stuff out ourselves and by learning from our peers.

Here are eight to be going on with.

1. Buy the management module

When you buy a server, spend the extra few hundred quid on the “lights out” management module if it's an optional extra rather than a standard component. These devices let you monitor your servers, remote control them, even power up the machine when it's powered down – all from the comfort of your desk or your home office. The day you inadvertently hit “Shut Down” instead of “Restart” in the Windows menu is the day you'll thank yourself for spending the money.

2. Serial connectivity is witchcraft

serial rs232 adapter

(Pic: Sukkin Pang / Flickr)

RS-232 is still a very common “lowest common denominator” way of connecting a PC to to an infrastructure device to do low-level configuration. Which means that loads of infrastructure devices come with serial cables.

Some of these are distinctive (I have one in my drawer for UPS, for instance, where one end looks like an iPod headphone connector) but many look the same as each other – but have their pins connected differently. So the moment you unpack the serial cable from the box, write in indelible marker on the plug what device it's for.

3. Compact servers still need power


Blade servers are fab – I love them to bits. You have a single chassis into which you can stuff shared LAN adaptors and server blades, and the server kit shares the underlying infrastructure, power, fans, lights-out management and network connectivity.

You can cram a whole lot of processing power into, say, 6U of rack space – which leads you to think: “Hey, I can put six of these in my 42U rack and still have space for the LAN switch”. No, you can't – there's no way your service provider will let you draw that much power in a single cabinet.

Check out the configurator application from your chosen blade server vendor (all the good ones have one) and you'll find you're limited to perhaps two or three installations per rack.

4. Service credits

that's all folks featuring Porky Pig

Let the credits roll!

If you enter a contract with a service provider of any sort – a phone company, maybe, or an ISP – the contract will generally incorporate some kind of financial penalty for not meeting the agreed service level.

Don't give them any credence whatsoever, because I've never come across any service credit clause that recompenses you in any way for the real cost of downtime (e.g. inability to trade for the duration, loss of reputation, etc). They're a nice-to-have, but they're really just a big waste of time: concentrate more on whether you trust the supplier to keep the service working and on finding an alternative supplier if not.

5. You can rack switches on your own

New Rackspace datacenter in Crawley, UK

Umm, so where do I begin?

Ever tried installing kit in a rack without someone there to help you? Not recommended, as it's fiddly, but if you have no choice here's a tip: if you're racking a 1U switch hold it up with one hand and install the bottom two rack bolts with the other: once you have these even finger-tight, the device becomes self-supporting and you can install the top bolts and tighten everything.

6. Racks come in more than one size

data centre racks

We all know that a 19” rack is a 19” rack, right? Wrong. The only fixed thing about a rack is the distance between the posts to which the equipment bolts.

Racks come in different depths (the distance from front to back), which you need to be aware of if changing your server brand because some vendors' kit is deeper than others. And width-wise the norm is a 600mm-wide unit, but for the rack in which your core switches will live you can go for 800mm instead, which makes it infinitely easier to grope around feeling cables in and out. So don't just think “I need a rack”.

7. Diverse entry

array of front doors (

Multiple choice

Does your office have diverse entry points? Have you asked? It's common, particularly in new buildings, for the architects to design in separate entry points for data and power cabling. If you have the option, make the most of it – have some of your services enter through each point, so that if someone stuffs a digger through the cables in the street neat one of them, there's a chance that your others will stay up.

8. Ask for what you want


Let me spell it out for you

If you're talking to a supplier about taking on a new service, don't just take it at face value. It's easy to assume that the supplier's standard contract is the only option available, but it's often just a starting point.

They want a six-week lead time? “Hang on, your distribution box is outside our front door, so I know you don't have to dig up the road to get to us”. They're refusing to sign up to you being able to cancel if their service is down for more than 48 hours? “Oh, OK, that means you think it's likely to happen, so I'll go somewhere else”.

Standard contracts are written to cater for the worst case so the vendor can't fail: they can often be encouraged to flex where it's clear it's not too risky for them to do so. ®

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