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Mission Critical Rooms

07 July 2007

Mission critical environments are no longer just the domain of £multi-million purpose- built data centres
belonging to corporate giants. The humble in-house comms room has become a complex mission critical
environment in itself. Kevin Doyle examines the issues

WITH THE INCREASE IN NEW TECHNOLOGIES, the inhouse communications suite is becoming a larger asset to manage within corporate and public sector organisations. The growing trend of converging voice, image and other technologies such as lighting, security and building management systems over the building communication network means that the humble comms suite has become a mission critical environment that is essential to the running of the building.

New technologies such as Internet Protocol (IP), Power over Ethernet (PoE) and Voice-over-IP (VoIP) mean in-house comms rooms are becoming more and more complex. The benefits to a building's FM is that training is limited to a single operation on IP based protocol and therefore resources are more abundant as more technical staff now have a good familiarity with this technology.

PoE is becoming the first choice for deploying Wi-Fi access points and CCTV systems. The cost benefit of not having to install a power outlet next to the device has seen the rapid increase in installations of this nature and with the latest image technology now available with IP enabled devices, the building's common structured cabling system takes the comms suite to another level. VoIP and PoE effectively lend themselves to using local comms suites, however, it is essential that these applications offer high resilience as the organisation becomes more and more dependent on these systems and any adverse effect will reflect on the existing data storage and network functions.

The comms suite will normally need to be upgraded to ensure that the power, uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and cooling systems are future proof, and that fire detection and suppression systems have been properly designed for the room with adequate consideration for future expansion. Comms suites will continue to evolve and it is therefore essential that there is proactive planning and implementation between ICT management and facilities management to ensure that interruptions to services are minimal.

There are a number of problems that can cause interruptions to a comms suite. These include voltage spikes, static electricity and ground shorts. These can be prevented by ensuring that all equipment is properly grounded, by using appropriately sized power distribution units (PDUs) and correctly designed UPSs that will provide adequate emergency power.

Monitoring systems should be installed to provide full information to FM such as battery availability, essential and non-essential power distribution status, temperature and humidity values, fire detection status, fire suppression status, access control and CCTV which can be implemented to provide additional information. Cabinets can also be monitored for access.

A strategy should be in place for risk assessment and processes for software systems to be taken down in a methodical way so that any affected hardware can be powered off in an appropriate sequence.

One of the greatest data centre exposures to FM issues is the frequent and continuous upgrades of equipment which can cause the electrical power and air conditioning loads to approach and eventually exceed their current capacities available. All upgrades should consider the effects they will have on the whole suite. A change control process must be in place to provide all the necessary criteria to manage the suite and minimise risks of failures.

If not already in place, quarterly electrical load readings on the power distribution units (PDUs) can be taken to keep tabs on energy usage and to ensure all equipment is operating within the system limits. It is also important to continue to look at ways of making improvements to the comms suite and especially areas where there is a potential single point of failure.

Critical systems can be further protected against outage by placing redundant servers and disk units on separate electrical circuits, on separate power distribution units and on separate air conditioning units. If a backup generator is installed it must be tested on a PPM process as recommended by the generator specialists on a full power-on test.

An imperative element of any work that could impact upon the continuity of services within the data centre is that it needs to be undertaken in a controlled manner and, therefore, such activity is managed through a change management process. All changes and upgrades being undertaken within or on equipment\services that could compromise the client should be notified with respect to maintaining the normal delivery of services. Examples of the activities undertaken or managed could include generator testing, UPS servicing, fire alarm or system testing and any mechanical or electrical installation works within the comms suite. This process provides a means of ensuring key personnel are aware of the activity and the potential risk to services.

Mechanical and electrical building services within data centres or comms suites are normally significantly more heavily engineered when compared to general office areas. This is to ensure the reliability and continuity of services. Ideally a dedicated resource should be allocated to maintain the services within this building including the provision of weekend coverage and extended day cover. In addition to the change management process it is important to ensure any sub-contractors working within the comms suite are correctly inducted and that any requirements for isolation are co-coordinated directly through an appropriate representative.

MITIE's innovative Intelligent Building Quotient (IBQ) has been developed to ensure that IT projects are directly linked into future business performance. MITIE has devised a unique scoring system to help identify potential vulnerabilities and cost-saving strategies. It is designed specifically to enable owners and managers of communication suites to identify risk, evaluate capacity and manage costs for existing and proposed facilities. For many businesses the quality, reliability and robustness of the comms suite has a direct impact on their own customer relations. Through appropriate facilities management which asks the appropriate questions, a more efficient, more resilient operation can be built and managed.

....Kevin Doyle is Business Manager at MITIE Technology

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