Mine Safety and Health Administration builds data center from scratch

For the information technology managers at the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration, building a new data center was the chance to do things right.

"We got the chance to build this data center the way we wanted to," said George Fesak, director of the agency's Program Evaluation and Information Resources. "And I think we used some good practices."

The agency's mission is to protect the safety and health of 400,000 miners in the U.S. It has 2,300 employees and about 99 locations, mostly field offices, located around the country.

The agency already has two data centers, one in Arlington, Va., and the other near Denver, to handle the agency's data. This new third facility, located in Beckley, W.V., would serve as a back-up for those two.

The construction of the facility started late last year, and was completed in March. The building dedicated 750 square feet for servers and another 300 square feet for networking equipment, noted Syed Hafeez, who is the deputy director for Program Evaluation and Information Resources.

Building a facility from scratch meant Fesak and his team could organize the facility for maximum efficiency. The data center runs redundant switches both with redundant power supplies. In the event of a central switch failure, the secondary switch will automatically backup the failed switch. The data center power is supplied by a 160 KW/225KVA UPS. In the event of a commercial power failure the dedicated 450KW generator can support the Data Center for up to three days at full load. Servers were arranged in the standard hot-aisle-cold aisle approach. In-line refrigeration units on the floor helped cool the high density server racks.

The equipment itself was organized into zones. One area of the data center was dedicated to internal servers. Another section was dedicated to networking equipment, and a third section is the storage area network.

A lot was also done to organize the many cables that ran among the servers and networking equipment. The team knew how easily so much cabling could run amuck, if not properly organized.

The network cables were routed on ceiling-suspended cable runways. Power is supplied through a modular electrical bus system which allows flexibility of locating power outlets, power drops, circuit breakers, and disconnects anywhere on the bus. The cable runways are capable of handling up to 50 pounds per square foot of cables. Even if that much cable was not now in place, the ladders would accommodate future expansion. Each cable in the facility is color-coded, and labels on the cable identify the equipment to which it connects, using the Labor Department's naming conventions.

'All wiring both electrical and network is located in full view making it easily available for any expansion or replacement of cabling," stated Shawn Stage, who is a network Administrator for the agency.

One of the ways that the agency reduced clutter was to eliminate the need for bulky KVM cables. KVM switches allow administrators to control the server through a keyboard and mouse, though the commands to the server are issued over the network, rather than through separate cables, eliminating three wires per server "Those things just by themselves create a rat's nest," Fesak said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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