Don't touch the skeletons in the server room

When moving IT infrastructure to a new office, it's a fresh start -- unless you're forced to deal with the prior inhabitants' detritus

Many, many times over the past 15 years, I've been asked to orchestrate a data center and/or corporate site move. When a company decides to schlep all staff and data services from one building to another, issues arise, including those involving data circuit installations, demarcs, and internal wiring problems. All together, there's an awful lot of logistics, phone calls, and emails, accompanied by a general hubbub of time constraints and building code concerns.

A lot depends, obviously, on the condition of the new site. In some cases, you're walking into nothing but four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. Believe it or not, that's usually a plus: A blank canvas virtually guarantees that you'll get what you want, where you want it.

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On the surface, starting from scratch may seem counterintuitive. If a space is already built out, you often get cube farms and offices, along with data and power cabling in place -- and in some cases, data center or server room facilities. Without all that, plans need to be drawn up for furniture placement, as well as office and data center construction. You also need to hammer out a cabling plan based on those designs.

But trust me, sometimes it's better to start over.

A big example is cabling. The prior tenants obviously had data and voice needs, but their method of delivering those services to users may be wildly different than yours. You might walk into a situation where you need only two data drops at each desk, but the previous tenants ran a single data drop and several Cat3 analog phone lines. The only solution is to rip out the Cat3 and replace it with Cat5e -- which will actually cost more than not having the Cat3 setup at all.

In the backroom, adequate power and cooling may be in place, but there are no guarantees. Buying and installing new AC units gives you peace of mind; there's nothing like new, fully warranted units. Working with existing units of unknown age is worrisome, but if they're already there, you probably won't be allowed to replace them unless they're obviously faulty. All you can do is make sure that you have a good mechanical contractor on call.

As for AC power, I've walked into abandoned data centers with AC and UPS systems still in place, but every single rack-bottom UPS was blown -- all of them. In that case, not only do you have to buy new UPSes, you need to pay to dispose of the old ones.

Then there are the inevitable mysteries: A bundle of patch cables disappearing into a conduit, never to be seen again. Fiber links found coiled above a ceiling tile in the kitchen area. A 10-year-old Dell OptiPlex sitting on the floor in a corner running Windows XP with a sign taped to the screen saying "Do Not Touch" on an otherwise empty floor. That one turned out to be a "solution" to the fact that the departing company took its entire security system with it and left behind this little box to control physical entry. When it went down, the super had to be called to open every door.

Sorting through such relics has the feel of an archaeological dig, to the point where working in unfamiliar, abandoned locations can result in getting brained by a falling rock -- or maybe a ladder rack that someone disconnected and left sitting on top of a data rack. Such hazards are not to be taken lightly.

Remember that when you leave a site for the next company. Sure, the wiring will remain in place, but so will the inexplicable holes in the ceiling where you set up temporary cooling that one time. You're also not going to touch that morass of 10Base-2 coax that's been writhing around in the plenum for the past 20 years, waiting to be discovered by the next hapless IT guy.

But do your successors a favor. Write up a little ditty to explain a few details and give them a heads-up about the oddities you've learned to live with. If your supplemental cooling system occasionally turns the women's room into a sauna due to a blocked exhaust, they should probably know about it, don't you think?

This story, "Don't touch the skeletons in the server room," was originally published at Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.