Emergency Planning for Data Centers

Whether it's natural disaster, unplanned power outages from electrical services, or some other unfortunate failure of the power grid, a data center can't simply shut down sloppily. A lot of dependencies, sensitive equipment, and services need to be shut down properly or prepared for a rocky exit to avoid corruption, and you'll want a way to keep things going as long as they can without damage. Here are a few data-center design and emergency options that could save your servers, routers, switches, and other vital data-center gear.

Cooling Access in Emergency Situations

For most businesses, a power outage that lasts for more than a few minutes means game over for computer operations. It's all off until power comes back on, and then the computers will begin the diagnostics to make sure everything works properly. If you have emergency power, there are a few things that need to be checked first—starting with the power.

Servers operate at high temperatures because they have many heat-emitting devices such as the processor. The processor, along with other devices, can elevate a closed room's temperature by several degrees, and if there's a power loss, there might a loss of balance in how the room is cooled.

This can be a problem because a server room needs to be closed to be cooled in the most effective manner. Air conditioning supplied to the whole business needs to be sectioned off for each area to get individual, targeted cooling. This is even more important if you have dedicated cooling centers for the server room, as open doors will allow all of that dedicated cool air to escape to other parts of the building.

If power is lost, or if the air-conditioning system fails, you'll need to kick into emergency response as soon as possible. Leave doors closed for as long as possible, but keep a thermometer installed to watch the temperature. Do not allow every manager, co-worker, bystander, and non-technical employee to stand inside to watch what's going on, as more bodies leads to higher temperatures.

Bringing in Fans for the Right Cooling Response

Once the server room becomes too high for what's left of the air conditioning's chilled air to handle, it's time to actively move air in and out of the data center. You'll need fans to blow air away from the computers, and if you're lucky, another set of fans to blow cooler air into the server room. 

Blowing uncooled air into overheating server rooms isn't helpful. Inanimate objects do not cool in the same way that living creatures do; you need to displace the hot air more than you need to introduce cold air unless you have a steady source of significantly colder air, so the best thing to do is place fans near the systems and point the fans toward the door or other exits.

If you have any unused server racks, get them out of the way. Using server jacks from a company such as Rack Lift to lift any unused infrastructure can help as long as you relocate everything to the walls and out of your cooling path. Again, no bystanders—it doesn't matter how important the people are. If they're standing around and gawking at operations, they're in the way of air movement.

If at all possible, point fans from as close to the raised floor as possible. Cold air sinks, so you'll want the fans to be near the bottom of any servers to blow cooler air up. This helps if server lifters are able to give more low-elevation floor space for fan placement. Call a server-equipment professional to get the right parts.