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Fatal Fallacy 1: Presuming That Major Components of Facilities Management Are All Addressed

If you ask typical infrastructure managers to name the major components of facilities management, they would likely mention common items such as air conditioning, electrical power, and perhaps fire suppression. Some may also mention smoke detection, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), and controlled physical access. Few of them would likely include less common entities such as electrical grounding, vault protection, and static electricity.

The fallacy occurs when infrastructure managers presume that major physical components that could affect their environment are all identified and addressed—when in fact they're not. The fallacy becomes fatal when one of these un-addressed entities fails and causes a major disruption. Following is a more comprehensive list of the major components of facilities management.

  • Air conditioning
  • Humidity
  • Electrical power
  • Static electricity
  • Electrical grounding
  • Uninterruptible power supply (UPS)
  • Backup UPS batteries
  • Backup generator
  • Water detection
  • Smoke detection
  • Fire suppression
  • Facility monitoring with alarms
  • Earthquake safeguards
  • Safety training
  • Supplier management
  • Controlled physical access
  • Protected vaults
  • Physical location
  • Classified environment

Temperature and humidity levels should be monitored constantly, either electronically or with recording charts, and reviewed once each shift to detect any unusual trends. Electrical power includes continuous supply at the proper voltage, current, and phasing as well as the conditioning of the power. Conditioning purifies the quality of the electricity for greater reliability. It involves filtering out stray magnetic fields that can induce unwanted inductance, doing the same to stray electrical fields that can generate unwanted capacitance, and providing surge suppression to prevent voltage spikes. Static electricity, which affects the operation of sensitive equipment, can build up in conductive materials such as carpeting, clothing, draperies, shoe soles, dry hair, and other non-insulating fibers. Antistatic devices can be installed to minimize this condition. Proper grounding is required to eliminate outages and potential human injury due to short circuits. Another element sometimes overlooked is whether UPS batteries are kept fully charged.

Water and smoke detection are common environmental guards in today's data centers, as are fire-suppression mechanisms. Facility monitoring systems and their alarms should be visible and audible enough to be seen and heard from almost any area in the computer room, even when noisy equipment such as printers are running at their loudest. Equipment should be anchored and secured to withstand moderate earthquakes. Large mainframes decades ago used to be safely anchored in part by the massive plumbing for water-cooled processors and by the huge bus and tag cables that interconnected the various units. In today's era of fiber-optic cables, air-cooled processors, and smaller boxes designed for non-raised flooring, this built-in anchoring of equipment is no longer as prevalent.

Emergency preparedness for earthquakes and other natural or manmade disasters should be a basic part of general safety training for all personnel working inside a data center. They should be knowledgeable about emergency powering off, evacuation procedures, first-aid assistance, and emergency telephone numbers. Training data center suppliers in these matters is also recommended.

Most data centers have acceptable methods of controlling physical access into their machine rooms, but not always for vaults or rooms that store sensitive documents, check stock, or tapes. The physical location of a data center can also be problematic. A basement level may be safe and secure from the outside, but it might also be exposed to water leaks and evacuation obstacles, particularly in older buildings. Locating a data center along outside walls of a building can sometimes contribute to sabotage from the outside. Classified environments almost always require data centers to be located as far away from outside walls as possible to safeguard them from outside physical forces such as bombs or projectiles, as well as from electronic sensing devices.

In fairness to infrastructure managers and operations personnel, several of these components may be under the management of the facilities department, for which no one in IT would have direct responsibility. But even in this case, infrastructure personnel and operations managers would normally want and need to know who to go to in the facilities department for specific types of environmental issues.

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