How To Safely Move Data Center Racks

How to Safely Move Data Center RacksRemember the days when a bunch of buddies got together to help you move? The exchange was an easy one: a day of their time and muscle power in exchange for pizza and beer, and inevitably the story of how something crashed or broke, or got away from you as it rolled down a steep driveway.

It’s not that way when a data center is moved. As different as the skill sets are between your buddies and a professional mover, the skills of a moving company that excels at moving, and one that excels specifically at moving data centers, are even further apart.

A data center move is a highly complex endeavor, and moving the life-blood of your business requires detailed planning to ensure safety is not sacrificed. In fact, safety planning is one of the top priorities when it comes to a data center move. Without it, the consequences can be dire – from equipment damage to serious personal injury and even death. (Yes, death. It happens almost every year in the US alone.)

If that concerns you, it should! But we’re here to share some of the essentials of a safe and effective data center move so that you can more wisely choose a moving company with the necessary skills. At Clancy Moving, we consider three primary factors as we plan your move.

The Transportation Environment

Just as a professional moving truck is better equipped than your buddy’s pick-up for an ordinary move, the trucks used to move data center racks are much more specialized.

While they may appear similar to standard tractor trailers from the outside, the difference is clear as soon as you step inside. A key element are the rails to which the racks are secured by clips or straps. The specialized interior of these trucks is designed to keep your racks secure.

It is never advisable to put a rack on the truck and leave it untethered. Skilled data center movers know precisely how to secure the server racks for a safe journey and have the transportation environment available to do so.

The Operational Environment

Securing the racks safely on the tractor trailer is just the beginning of the moving journey. The route to follow must be scrutinized to eliminate potential hazards and difficulties during transport.

Consider what one rack can weigh – fully loaded, it can clock in easily at 2,500 pounds – and then multiply that by however many loaded racks are being moved at one time. It isn’t safe to assume that the truck or trailer can bear that kind of weight. Part of a safe data center move is understanding the travel route, eliminating dangers and mitigating deficiencies.

In addition, all devices, shelves, and drawers must be properly secured for travel. One particular safety hazard comes into play here: extended doors or hardware can pose a tip risk, and that means a rack can tip over and not only devastate your equipment, but it can injure or actually kill someone. People with expertise in factors affecting a data center move, such as understanding tilt standards, have the knowledge needed to spot and mitigate such events before they ever happen.

An experienced crew knows about simple rules to follow in a data center. Dust! They know data centers have rules about bringing cardboard into a data center environment. They plan ahead and do their packing and unpacking outside of the data center space in a staging area. It’s yet another factor an experienced crew has to ensure smooth sailing and avoid delays. We have seen a data center manager throw a crew out for not following rules. Imaging that happening during your server relocation.

Other factors can affect the operational environment and must be inspected prior to a move, including door widths, the necessity for (and capacity of) a lift gate, the number of professional movers required to move the designated equipment, obstructions such as bumpy sidewalks, uneven terrain, loose gravel outdoors or loose tile indoors, the elevator threshold and much more.

With so many variables at play, a thorough needs analysis must be conducted prior to the move, to determine the safety requirements and plan accordingly.

The Installation Environment

It’s at the installation location that the greatest number of safety risks come into play, for both the racks and for those moving them.

Before even getting inside the data center, the first major hurdle may be the outside slopes and ruts. If the slope of a road or sidewalk is steep, the level of difficulty and danger multiplies significantly. Will the truck be facing uphill or downhill? At what angle does the sidewalk or road lean? Must a fork lift or a pallet jack be employed? Each of these affects how a data center move is conducted.

Once inside the building, elevators are the next hurdle. Availability is critical for any move above the first floor of a building. Established data centers tend to have freight elevators and wide hallways without carpeting—in other words, they are designed to move racks—but what if you’re not moving to a data center? Maybe, as an up-and-coming start-up, you are moving to a more cost-effective location in a typical office building or a retro-warehouse. Moving conditions can be less than ideal.

Dealing with heavy racks

All of the above challenges grow exponentially when the racks are fully loaded. It could be that the rack can’t be disassembled, perhaps to minimize server down time. Loaded racks are going to be extraordinarily heavy.

As already mentioned, established data centers are more likely to have an environment conducive to moving heavy equipment … but what about those that do not? Some older data centers may not be as well-equipped. What about those with carpet instead of tile? When a heavy rack moves over carpet, the drag can create a wave. Many other flooring types don’t fare well either; heavy racks can leave permanent ruts in linoleum.

Raised floor tiles, in particular, present unique challenges. Even if you can see a clear path to move in and out with racks, the weight rating of the tiles has to be considered. Floor tile is usually rated for 1500 lbs, while traffic tile is rated up to 5000 lbs. Raised floors may have holes cut into them for air flow or cable management, which will affect the load they can bear.

In an older data center, years of heavy traffic may start to move the stanchions underneath the raised floor tiles or collapse tiles if they are not rated properly. Some data centers aren’t as good at replacing damaged tiles, and the slightest imperfections on a floor compound the hazards faced in moving a rack safely to its destination.

What if it’s too big?

When a rack is delivered empty and then populated server by server over time, its eventual mobility may not be a consideration at the time. Then comes moving day, and the assembled rack must be moved in its assembled form. It can be too tall, too wide, or too heavy to move through doorways and along designated paths. The preconceived migration plans of a customer may be difficult, dangerous and even impossible.

Width and height can be potential issues for door openings upon arrival at the destination, and all of the issues raised above regarding sloped surfaces, elevators, and floor surfaces are compounded.

Safely Packing Racks

There are a number of ways to safely package a rack, and while it may be done either by the manufacturer (in the case of a new equipment purchase) or by you as its owner, your moving company may be called upon to provide the packaging materials and skills.

Depending on the distance of a move and the type of rack, options include cardboard wrapping, shrink warp with corner protection, a fully enclosed wood pallet and even blankets.

Moving Can Be Done Safely

In spite of the hazards and challenges we’ve mentioned, the right team of experienced data center movers will be your ideal mitigators of potential risks.

Experience means knowing what questions to ask and understanding the unique requirements and demands at play when it comes to moving equipment that is highly sensitive and valuable, as well as extraordinarily heavy and unwieldy.

An expert team in data center migration knows what’s at stake before the job even begins, and knows how to make safety the number one priority for everyone involved: you, the team, and the equipment.

Everything we’ve discussed here is a high level overview of some of the requirements and risks of moving a data center. There are quite literally dozens and dozens of factors to understand and consider so you can enjoy a safe and successful move.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you successfully execute your data center migration, contact us and we’ll be happy to answer your questions and demonstrate that we have the qualifications and expertise to make your move a safe success.