Ensuring A Smooth Colocation Install

It’s probably impossible of foresee every challenge or issue you may encounter when installing your servers in the data center, but here’s a short list of easy things to do and remember that will help you avoid the larger bumps:

Label Your Equipment
A hand-held label printer from Dymo.
A hand-held label printer from Dymo.

Whether you use a hand-held label printer, or (neatly!) hand-print your labels, you want clear, highly-visible labels that won’t peel off. A good naming convention to use is: CLIENT_ID:EQUIP_ID, replacing CLIENT_ID with a short version of your company/client name or the account number assigned by your provider, and EQUIP_ID with something unique for that piece of equipment (i.e. SVR1, FW1, SW1, etc). Alternately you can label your equipment with a unique hostname, primary IP address or some other designator, but the one that is easiest to remember is always recommended.

Be Mount-ready
Rack nuts snap into square hole posts to allow bolt fastening.
Rack nuts snap into square hole posts to allow bolt fastening.

Hey, get your mind out of the gutter! Seriously, all this means is that you’ll want to check the colocation cabinet details for your facility To see what type of mounting is needed or expect. While most modern data cabinets are outfitted with front and rear vertical square hole posts, there’s the occasional exception – and there is still some equipment out there that must be bolted to the posts. Many facilities will have rack nuts available upon request, but it’s better to know that beforehand. Bring all mounting hardware that came with your equipment and know how it fits together before you get there.

Data cabinet shelf mounted in cabinet.
Data cabinet shelf mounted in cabinet.

If you have some equipment that is not geared for rackmount applications, such as a tower server or small networking/security appliance, first verify with your provider that they allow such things in their cabinets. Usually. you can rest small devices, like switches and firewalls, on top of your equipment once it is mounted. But you cannot rest anything on anyone else’s equipment in the cabinet if you are in a shared cabinet, and you cannot rest big heavy things on top of other equipment or you run the risk of the whole stack tumbling down. The best solutions is to obtain and mount a data cabinet shelf for these “loose” devices. The facility may be able to sell or loan you one – if not, they are easily had from a variety of sources.

Don’t Forget Your Cables
Cable management - in the data center, neatness counts.
Cable management – in the data center, neatness counts.

Bring all the power cords and patch cables you will need to hook up your equipment, and be mindful that they are long enough, but not too long (otherwise you’ll end up with large bundles or tangles of cable). Usually the provider will have run a network drop for your uplink, but in some cases you may need an additional cable to connect to a patch panel – inquire with your provider in advance if you are unsure. If you have a large number of network connections between your equipment, strongly consider using cable management hardware to keep everything need and orderly, and color-coding or tagging connections for ease of identification. It’s a bit more work now, but it will pay off when you need to suss out connections later.

Count Your Power Connections
The "Y" power cord connects two devices to one outlet.
The “Y” power cord connects two devices to one outlet.

Power outlet usage has a way of multiplying rapidly. Whether you’ll be on a shared power circuit or have a full circuit dedicated to you, you’ll want to verify how many power sockets you’ll be getting – if any (in the case of a full circuit, you may be expected to supply the power strip). While some providers will let you plug a power strip into a power strip in order to extend the number of available outlets (a practice called “daisy chaining”), this is a violation of the National Electrical Code and you really should not be doing it. If you need more outlets than you have, one solution is to utilize splitter power cords. The “Y” configuration is most common, giving you two connections per outlet, but three-way and higher splits can be found it you look around. Be careful that you don’t exceed the load ratings on these cords. A final note: hopefully it goes without saying that home-grade extension cords and similar hardware are a no-no in the data center.

Know Your Network Settings And Needs

In most cases, your provider will give you a single uplink port for networking, so plan on including a small switch if you have more than one network device to connect. Pre-configuring networking settings on all equipment before you deploy in the data center is strongly recommended… but in any case, bring your address space allocation details with you. It’s a standard practice for the provider’s uplink port to be set to auto-negotiation mode. This is also the default for nearly every NIC and network driver out there. Manually forcing your connection speed and duplex setting is not recommended, but if you intend to do so, you must let your provider know in advance so they can match settings on their side. A speed or duplex mismatch will occur and will result in communication errors when only one side of a connection uses auto-negotiation.