6 Tips for Ensuring Optimal IT Environments at SMBs and Branch Offices

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Raise your hand if you’ve seen a server stuck in a closet next to cleaning supplies, whirring away as dust gathers around it. It’s an all too common site at small or medium-sized businesses, and even in branch offices of large businesses – and it’s dangerous.

Not dangerous to employees, necessarily, but dangerous to the business. Because IT equipment is no less important for SMBs as it is for enterprise companies, and equipment in branch offices should be protected just as IT infrastructure installed in a data center is.

Here’s a little checklist that may help you determine if you’ve got IT gear installed in a less-than-optimum fashion.

Virtually all small server rooms need an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and power distribution unit (PDU). Note that a UPS with capacity above 2,200VA cannot be plugged into a household plug – it needs a higher rated plug or can be hardwired to an electrical panel by an electrical contractor. The PDU decreases the required wiring distance and allows several devices to be powered by a single source. Your best bet is to use UPSs and PDUs that can be remotely managed, so they provide alerts when things go wrong and enable remote administrators to shut down particular outlets, such as to restart a hung server.

You’ve got multiple cooling options, depending mainly on the amount of IT equipment you’ve got and where it’s located. In some cases, the room air conditioning will suffice; in others you need dedicated cooling. Here’s a simple guide:

IT loads less than 400 watts: use conduction, where heat can flow freely through the walls
IT loads between 400 and 700 watts: use passive ventilation in which heat can flow into cooler air via a vent or grille, without use of a fan
IT loads between 700 and 2,000 watts: use fan-assisted ventilation
IT loads greater than 2,000 watts: use dedicated cooling

Many SMBs and branch offices can also benefit from racks, which are enclosures that house all your IT equipment. They improve availability, organization, cable management, physical security, cooling effectiveness, power distribution and just the professionalism associated with the overall look of an IT space. You can even get racks that are designed for an office environment, providing a soundproof, powered and ventilated IT enclosure.

Physical Security and Monitoring
The biggest threat to IT infrastructure is human error. Mislabeled equipment, spilled coffee and other such mishaps routinely cause operational issues and even complete IT failures. You can (largely) avoid such issues by locking your server closet or rack enclosure, ensuring only authorized personnel can access IT equipment. Security cameras and sensors that detect smoke, temperature, humidity and movement are also good ideas.

Effective lighting is often a problem in small IT environments, making it difficult to see product labels and wire connections. But there’s a simple, inexpensive solution: a headlamp. This will allow hands-free visibility in tight spaces and are less likely to be lost, damaged or removed from the room.

Software Management Systems
All kinds of software is now available to help manage small server sites from afar. The tools enable everything from the unattended, graceful shutdown of servers after a power outage to energy usage reporting and risk assessments. Tools are also available to help you configure your environment and determine which products are the best fit.

An IT environment that’s chaotic, unsecure, unmonitored and cramped can lead to significant downtime and inconvenience. Follow these recommendations to optimize your operations and ensure the security of business-critical IT infrastructure. To learn more, check out Schneider Electric white paper number 174, “Practical Options for Deploying IT Equipment in Small Server Rooms and Branch Offices.”

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  • Sarry Norton

    11 years ago

    To accomplish this scenario in a way that also curbs overall branch-office and SMB total cost of ownership (TCO), IT departments need to build a branch-office strategy that standardizes each type of site, rather than attempting to add services here and there as afterthoughts. The strategy should account for network application types in use now and in the future, where they are hosted, traffic flow patterns, and security.

    • Carl Cronk

      10 years ago

      Two strong argument to help counter the, “We don’t have the Time/Money to ProActively fix/redo the chaos in the closet!”:

      1. The rhetorical question: Why do we never have the time/money to do it right, but we can always find the time/money to do it over when it breaks?”

      I was in a large grocery chain where dozens of switches, routers, and other appliances were literally jammed into under-counter space. It was a solid, tangled mass of power cables, power strips, data cables, and phone cables. Blind Reach was the only access. While tracing a data cable, I did something that flipped the (unprotected) switch on a power strip – – – that was feeding 5 routers.

      Four came back on their own, but one had to be reloaded by the NOC Team. They said it happed all the time. I ask, at what cost to productivity and customer satisfaction.

      2. If you survive the first question, put on your iron pants for the next one: “If not NOW, When?”

      IT Folklore is replete with stories of the disastrous consequences that resulted from managers and staff, who also paid dearly, for trying to save a buck on express shipping, or get another day out of a failing appliance.

      If it is bad/wrong, and people/business depend on it, fix it now!

      One of the saddest truths of many business (especially in IT) is:
      • the HERO is usually the one that “fixes” the disaster (even if they are the cause of it),
      • the SIDEKICK is the person who is deemed “unnecessary”, or even let go..
      Their hard work, planning, and successful disaster-avoidance is usually overlooked, and ignored … “Because nothing bad happened!”

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