• United States



by Colin Rankine

Data Center Site Selection

Jul 21, 20045 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Site selection and geographic distribution of critical operations centers has transitioned from the tactical, driven by cost alone, to the strategic, driven by both cost and risk mitigation considerations. Technology improvements have relaxed many historical constraints on data center operations that forced hardware and human assets to be considered as a single unit. Leading IT organizations are now basing policy on the assumption that data center (machine rooms) and staff locations (people centers) are logically associated but physically independent entities in this respect.

Data Center Site Selection Considerations

Site selection is a complex business decision, typically requiring the expertise of several constituencies to deliver an optimal result. Specifc to data center site selection, expert opinions regarding technical demands (network traffic flow, recovery strategies, and so on), human resource concerns (relocation expense, availability of skilled resources in the local market, and so on), as well as fundamental commercial real-estate concerns all apply. The intent of this document is not to address all of these issues but rather to identify the current state of remote management technology and to call attention to the gaps in desirable attributes of machine rooms as distinct from those for people centers in site selection.

Site Selection Attributes

Co-location of hardware assets and associated support staff. is driven more by tradition than merit. The majority of IT support functions can be delivered as effectively at WAN distances as they can be locally. The net effect is that organizations considering changes in data center site locations (strategic changes in geographic distribution, consolidation, and so on) should afford themselves the flexibility allowed by treating hardware and human assets independently in planning efforts. Decomposition of physical space needs between man and machine enable least-cost site strategies and may provide the flexibility needed to manage attrition of skilled staff, especially where consolidation projects are involved. Sample attributes for both machine room and staff locations are presented below (see Figure 1 and see Figure 2). The attributes highlighted in the tables are certainly not comprehensive treatments, rather they are intended to highlight the different priorities associated in optimal site selection for each.

Considerations And Limitations

The ultimate policy for data center topology depends on several factors as discussed above, but it is largely a compromise between risk mitigation (geographic distribution) and operational efficiency (consolidation). For most organizations, the economics of centralization and consolidation dominate policy, with the conclusion that one or two data centers per region is the optimal solution, with region defined on a continental basis. Provisioning at least two data centers is a requirement if internal recovery site strategies are chosen, while a single site is possible if commercial recovery site services are available. Very large IT organizations may well require a significantly greater number of sites to manage capacity and recovery demands.

The majority of technical support and operational functions can be e.ectively delivered at a distance. Clearly, some requirement for local access to machine room hardware exists for specific functions, including facilities management, hardware installation and maintenance activity, media handling (tape), and so on. However, the vast majority of support services in excess of 80 percent of all IT support functions do not require physical proximity to hardware.

Mainframe, server, storage, and network hardware devices have historically required direct, local attachment of system consoles or master consoles, or in some cases, integrated control panels with status indicators and/or mechanical control switches for power on/off, enable/disable of port connections, and so on. The vast majority of systems vendors in the market today offer remote console capability for most if not all of these functions. The use of a browser management interface to manage collections of hardware components is the trend among leading vendors. The remote access management interfaces are proprietary, requiring specific knowledge of each vendor/product function and command set. However, this is no different from the demands that exist for local hardware management.

Print operations are typically segregated from core server/storage/network machine rooms. High volume print and print-to-mail operations have their own unique set of site demands (air handling, access to loading docks and distribution centers, etc.) which are largely inconsistent with the demands of a secure data center. Tape operations are typically within SAN/LAN/ESCON campus distances, but physically partitioned away from server/storage/network machine rooms.


Include Remote Support Flexibility in Data Center Strategy

  • Organizations currently engaged in data center site selection efforts based on business growth, risk mitigation, or consolidation initiatives should consider placement of hardware and human assets as logically related but physically independent business decisions.
  • With few exceptions, it is not important that human resources and hardware resources are co-located, but it is important that support staff (human) resources are centralized under one roof. The physical centralization of IT personnel is a critical enabler for product and process standardization efforts. Standardization, in turn, enables greater consolidation and automation opportunities, which drive down costs.
  • As an exception to the staff centralization recommendation made above, IT management may consider remote support (remote from the staff location, not just the machine room) arrangements to avoid M&L expense and retain key personnel. This model is most viable for experienced, disciplined support staff and is typically used to address situations where critical sta. members are not willing to relocate.
  • Site selection committees should include representation from IT operations, human resources, and corporate risk management functions in addition to the property management function that traditionally drives such efforts.