Preparing for Your Colo’s Access Day

After selecting a datacenter, and signing the contract, the hard work begins of getting parts in place to support your build. It is advised to begin tracking your inventory, particularly sundries and spares, and assessing other additional equipment needed for access day into the datacenter.

Read what Colin Corbett, BlueChipTek Engineer, has to say from his 26 years of experience in building infrastructure from the ground up.

While it is easy to tell what is powered on, and running, and functioning, a lot of work should be put into all the things that are not able to be monitored in real-time, but are very much needed at the cage.


Keeping track of inventory (bins and sundries).

The Non-active equipment (screwdrivers, tools, rack nuts etc.), also need to be tracked, mainly so that when you go to the datacenter, you know you have the correct amount of tools and spares.

An inventory should be done every 3 months, (if you are visiting frequently), or every time you visit, if visiting less frequently. Be especially conscious about what smart hands is consuming as well.

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Tip: if you are performing a remote hands ticket to swap a consumable: (Optic, DIMM, Hard drive etc.), make sure to ask the provider how many spares are left, so that you can update that.

Side note: If you have parts that the datacenter also uses, make sure to label your equipment CLEARLY that it is yours. While you should not put your company name on there, put your cage # etc. on there. Things that like to grow legs, include ladders, garbage cans, fiber cleaners, screwdrivers etc.


Cage Sundries (all the things to keep the cage clean).

A successful cage build has a lot of large well-known parts; servers, routers etc. But in addition to those, are a lot of smaller, often overlooked sundry parts. While a good job is done keeping an eye on spare large components, the failure or lack of these small parts can cause large failures, or prolong outages. The old parable of “for want of a nail” is especially apt at many times. Sometimes, you need that $5 box cutter, a simple fiber cable (that you have hundreds of back at the office), a screwdriver, etc. and at that exact moment, you are willing to overpay for the correct part, pay for overnight freight etc. to make the build successful.

The idea here is to have things to be able to be found easily, to have tools needed to work safely, be able to restore the site quickly, and to help keep your cage clean. You want to know that you can have someone, (including remote hands) walk in the cage and find everything they need to do their job.

The easier and quicker it is for them to get their work done, the better things will be.

Lets go into a list of some of the common sundries that should be at a cage.


The labeler!

The first thing on your shopping list should be a labeler. This is to help you identify gear. When you are starting out, this might seem like a frivolous idea, but as you get big, have multiple people working in the cage, or have multiple presences, you’ll start wondering, “what is that piece of gear,” “where does that cable go to,” etc. Labeling that cable, or that hardware will make troubleshooting a lot easier.

One of the things to look for in a labeler is for PC/Mac connectivity. If you have a spreadsheet (You can fill out contact form to get sample label templates), you can, with a bit of “concatenate” magic, make a lot of helpful labels into a CSV or Text files, that you can then mail merge to a label printer. What this means is you can create labels hundreds at a time (chain printing), instead of using the on-device keyboard. Also, with features like “half-cut” you can make the labels easy to peel off.

An example of a labeler that does this is the brother Ptouch PT-E550W, and the higher end: PT-9600 (note: historically some of the lower end ones have only PC support and not mac support).

My preference is for the E550W, as it supports auto-ranging power (120-240V), and has good end of tape detection. The E550W is a successor to the 9600, but, it has less printable area than the 9600. (so if you want to print on a 24MM label, you may have to shrink it a bit.) The E550W also is available in multiple countries, and has wireless support etc.

Other labelers to look at include the line of brady or Dymo labelers. For the BCT integration area, we use the Brady Wraptor, to label wrap our cables. This is a great solution for bulk cabling work that we do, but is cost prohibitive for a smaller pop.

Each label connecting items should have a minimum of two pieces of data, a source and an end, (and potentially middle information, if going through panels.)

Using your agreed to, consistent naming system, print out labels (by the reel), so that you can easily connect them to your cables, or to devices.

There are various opinions as to how to make labels. Some folks like the wrap around labels (see: brady), some folks like flag labels (eg: brother). Some folks like printing the label twice and folding it over on itself (so you can see it no matter which way it is facing. Regardless of what you choose, make sure you have a label.

* My preference is for a twice printed flag style label, using strong adhesive tape. (eg: brother TZES251 tape)

TIP: The standard adhesive tape from brother can degrade over time, and cause the tape to come loose. (Usually after ~1-2 years). The strong adhesive variant will last longer.

Back-brace

Your back is fragile, and many things in the datacenter are heavy. It is recommended that you purchase a few back braces (of the appropriate size and rating), and portable carts, and lifts to move heavy equipment around. It is better to the company if you are able to work throughout the bring-up of the cage as opposed to being off attending physical therapy, and unable to lift anything.


Vertical storage (Bins, more is better!)

  • There are a lot of different things that go into building a cage. Cables, screws, tools, network and server components, and all of these could be needed in an emergency. In a standard build of a 10 rack cage, I usually have at least 60 different parts for sundries and spares.
  • Always allocate space for bins in your design. Try and lay them out in a consistent way, so that as you add more locations, you can copy this design. That way, when you add multiple locations you are ready to go, and there is not a lot of training to do. This will also become helpful, as when you are talking to remote hands, you may be able to recite where the exact part is, if you have a global standard of parts layout.
    • If possible have large bins, and small bins. You will have more small parts (e.g.: cables, tools etc.), than you will have big parts.

Examples of bins, sundries etc. and their layout can be downloaded via our contact form.


Mobile Shelving

For large items, (e.g.: a blade for a router), a spare switch, spare server etc., you should purchase mobile shelving, so that you can have a place to store spare blades when needed. These unfortunately take quite a bit of room. If possible, build these into your space plans for the datacenter, or procure on-site storage space at your colo.

Inquire with BlueChipTek’s Integration Team for examples.


Portable Crash Cart (Cart, Keyboard, Monitor)

Sometimes, a server just needs the personal touch, whether its adding ram, swapping a motherboard or other component. However, space is at a premium. If possible have a portable work table, that can also function as a crash cart, so you can troubleshoot a server when needed. It should have monitor, keyboard, and common tools.

NOTE: Most times a datacenter will have a spare crash cart available. However, keep in mind it is “first come, first served”. If you don’t want to run the risk of waiting for hours to plug in a monitor, keyboard etc. you will want to procure your own cart.

Inquire with BlueChipTek’s Integration Team for examples.


Desk and Chairs

In the very beginning of a colo, there is a lot of space, due to spare racks footprints, room for growth etc., and you will be doing a lot of work there. If possible, procure some folding chairs, and some folding desks. This will help you get things done in the cage. As time goes on, this may become less of an issue, but the investment will help out in the long run.

Note: Different datacenters have different requirements. In some locations I’ve brought in folding camping chairs that were on-sale at the local hardware store. In some places that’s not met their criteria, and I’ve brought in folding all-steel meeting room chairs


Spare Fiber, Copper and Power Cables.

When you are deploying your site, always make sure that if you have hard to get cables, that you have an on-site spare of it. This is doubly true, if it is a part that has a low cost.

Be especially conscious of things like:

  • MTP Cables (potentially long lead time) but also varying end types (12 vs 24 strands) (male and female ends) (3 different wiring methods (A/B/C)),
  • AOC/DAC cables (long lead time, sometimes special programming needed), Fiber cables with non common properties (eg: APC, Bend insensitive).

While most people are familiar with murphys law, another common one would be that: “When something fails, it will be a cheap part, with a long lead time”.

Also, as you continue to innovate on your datacenter builds over time, make sure that you continue to innovate on spares.

Eg: Moving to:

  • 100G DACs - have 100G DACs as spare
  • 25G Nics – have 25G Nics spare
  • new color coded 28awg cat6 cables. – have spare cables of this new color
  • etc.


Individual cabinets, not individual servers.

As you are purchasing a mid-size cage (e.g.: 10 cabs or larger) it is recommended you buy servers not in a standalone fashion, but as a fully assembled cabinet. This has multiple advantages.

  • Cabinets are pre-tested off-site, in a less constrained environment. The folks assembling your cabinet, are able to get close in to the cabinet and do an amazing job of cabling the rack, due to having so much space to work with, and due to having lots of experience doing it.
  • Spares and sundries are available off-site, such as cables of the right length and color.
  • A fully assembled cabinet will be able to be wheeled out of the datacenter when the contract ends, or in case of emergency (e.g.: if you need to take it to another colo), or when the cabinet needs to be swapped out for a newer version of servers, if they are deprecated etc.
  • The turn-up time for a full cabinet is very short. You wheel it in, bolt it down (if necessary), run the uplinks to the rack, run the power from the rack to the outlets, and you are ready to start configuring.

  • If you went with individual servers, you have lots of potential issues, including:
    • Limited access to the rack, (the cage walls are close in and you can’t get more than 2 folks working on a cabinet at a time).
    • you need more equipment than you think, (e.g.: power cables, network cables, in the right length and right color.
    • Depending upon timelines, shortcuts may be made (using the wrong length cable etc.)).
    • not everything will be labeled, or it may take longer to label everything.
    • you may not have all of the parts on-hand, especially in the case of failure.
    • the time to hand assemble and deliver a rack can be over four-man weeks! This is valuable employee time. The problem is even more pronounced if you are deploying in a remote city (costs for meals, hotel, and constantly changing airplane tickets due to pushed back deadlines etc.).

There are a few things to note about a cabinet approach:

  • You need to make sure that you get a cabinet that can fit through the doors (starting with the shipping door) and aisle ways to your cage. (Know your vertical and horizontal clearances, especially in tight corners).
  • You need to make sure that the floor loading of the datacenter, all the way from shipping to your cage is able to handle your equipment, or they have a solution to make it work (e.g.: metal sheets to reinforce the floor etc.)
  • The problem you can face is having to tilt a fully loaded cabinet because the door is too low. (This is beyond the scope of this document, but, be very careful)
  • Make sure your delivery company is highly competent, and has dealt with moving heavy equipment like this
  • Your equipment should arrive on an air-ride truck equipped with a full-size lift-gate.
  • The lift-gate should be rated to support double the full weight of your cabinet.
  • usually at least 2 people should be arriving, to help deliver your cabinet. 4 is the ideal number.
  • Your cabinet may show up on a pallet, or in a crate (this is common if delivery of your cabinet is > 50 miles from where it was made.)
  • Note: The cabinet, is not top heavy, its evenly heavy. Regardless, it may tip.
  • If it looks like it’s about to tip, DO NOT TRY TO STOP IT. Yes, it may cost a lot of money, but you will not be able to stop it. A sad event, of losing your servers, could escalate into a tragic event if you were to get a serious or fatal injury!


Who sells what gear?

Grainger

  • Sells a lot of the general infrastructure stuff;
  • Bins, common tools, shelving etc. Since they do not specialize in networking stuff, you will need to look at things with an eye on potential usability. Their web site is amazingly complete, and everything can be purchased online. Also, getting credit terms, if you are a small player is fairly easy.

Anixter

  • Sells a lot of the networking sundries (copper/fiber cables, testers, adapters etc.) When setting up an account with Anixter, get an account on their eanixter portal. On this site you can order (nearly) everything that they carry. If something is not available, ask Anixter to add it to eanixter.

Graybar

  • Sells a lot of the networking sundries, similar to Anixter. Access their online portal to shop for electrical supplies.
  • Graybar also has a lot of physical counters, so if you need common parts, and have a car, you can drive there and get them on short notice. Note: getting credit terms with graybar can be substantially difficult.

CDW

  • Sells a few of the general components that the other vendors do not carry (e.g.: labelers, label tape etc.)

Quail

  • For the special power cables you need, Quail has these. A lot of network equipment you purchase will come with the wrong power cable for your infrastructure, so it helps to have your own power cables on hand.
  • Also with the advent of different colored power cables, you can easily ensure that a redundant power supply does not get plugged into the same strip as a primary power supply. Note: Quail does not, as of this writing, have an online ordering process. You must deal with an email.

Datacenter Gear

  • A vendor of various power cables, and other parts needed for the datacenter. They are based in California and can ship rapidly.
  • A vendor for a wide choice of SFPs, DACs and AOC Cables. They also offer a programmer to reprogram your optics to the correct ID code if needed.
  • A vendor of Fiber cables, fiber cleaners and other fiber components.

Flexoptix

  • A vendor for a wide choice of SFPs, DACs and AOC Cables. They also offer a programmer to reprogram your optics to the correct ID code if needed.

Fiberstore

  • A vendor of Fiber cables, fiber cleaners and other fiber components.


Not sure which vendor to go with for your sundries? BlueChipTek’s Integration Team is available to provide insights and recommendations based on your colo type. Fill out the contact form to reach out to the BlueChipTek Integration Team. We can also order the hardware for you, stock it, and ship it with a planned build to meet an implementation date.

If you are interested in a sample back brace and cart equipment as well as a detailed list of common sundries, you can also click here to fill out our contact form to get access to these great tools!


In our next colo series, we will discuss what aspects to keep in mind when going into the datacenter on the first day.