Uninterruptible power has become a major concern for businesses storing critical data on racks of physical and virtual servers. Following Sept. 11, 2001, and multiple catastrophic storms in the United States this decade, a trend of securing data across all industries emerged for more than just banks and insurance companies.

Companies are finding that a data recovery center is the best way to ensure their functions remain intact after a disaster. This is spurring many firms to build remote facilities managed by outside companies with uninterrupted power and cooling.

Lifeline Data Centers, Indianapolis, offers facility with backup equipment and power for the system. It can can build the entire center or allow end-users to use their own contractor to run cabling and fiber.

“Our approach is to be a high-tech landlord,” said Doug Theis, Lifeline senior vice president of business development. “We’re extremely customizable, since each customer’s needs are unique.”

Lifeline provides facilities, power, security, fire suppression and optional managed services. Within a facility, every private “cage” is custom-built for the end-user.

“It’s all about the cost of downtime,” Theis said. “We remove the barriers for growth and change and, most importantly, reliability. Most companies have experienced a power shortage or cooling shortage in a data center. By using third-party groups, such as Lifeline, or by building away from their existing facility, it means they no longer have to be experts in a facility.”

One Lifeline customer is auto auction company ADESA. The company facilitates vehicle sales between licensed dealers who are registered at its facilities. It operates 50 used car auctions across North America. KAR Holdings, ADESA’s parent company, also manages salvage auctions and loan production offices in three countries.

ADESA built a critical data recovery system in north Indianapolis to provide backup for its auctioneering services.

“If we can’t run our auctions, we’re in trouble,” said Jeff Babcock, ADESA project manager.

As the company grew and centralized operations, its Carmel data center, built in 2004, which had multiple single-points of failure, was no longer adequate. ADESA needed redundancy and guaranteed backup. The company chose to move its production operations out of the Carmel center and into an enterprise class environment in Lifeline’s facility.

“It comes down to one thing: uptime,” said Christopher Anderson, IT infrastructure director for ADESA. “We facilitate the [purchase or sale] of a vehicle every 30 seconds in one of our typical auction lanes. With some sites having over 10 lanes, and dozens of sites having sales at any given time, it doesn’t take long for the math to add up. Downtime is something we simply cannot afford. So we partnered with companies that not only understood our need for uptime, but also had the customer focus and experience to enable our success.”

“We moved to Lifeline for the fundamental reason that we wanted to do a lights-out facility,” said Chris Roberts, IT manager of network and security operations.

Increasingly, Roberts said, data centers, such as ADESA’s, are not as much about space as about power and cooling.

“If you take 20 servers and place them in a blade center, for example, you have huge power and cooling requirements in a condensed space,” Roberts said. “That puts pressure on my team to find methods to cool and power these systems in areas that were not designed to house them originally.”

By letting a company such as Lifeline take that role, ADESA can allow its engineers to focus on other things.

ADESA worked with ERMCO Inc., an Indianapolis-based electrical and telecommunications contractor, on previous projects involving low-voltage electrical installation and chose the company to install fiber and copper cabling between network racks and cabinets and fiber-runner throughout the data center. ERMCO also was responsible for grounding all the cabinets and racks.

From the onset, ADESA met with Lifeline and ERMCO to strategize the best plan for the data center. The company wanted full redundancy with two independent power sources and two independent data lines, along with uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) and generators with physical segregation and redundant lines. It also wanted to decentralize power and air, so an entire group of servers in one cluster would not go down at once.

“In addition to a failure of power or cooling, we also wanted to ensure that the data connectivity was redundant across all systems,” Roberts said. “So we installed in each cabinet an A and B switch which tied to the redundant core systems. This split the connections among servers throughout the location. By spreading servers in a cluster among several racks, a failure in power, cooling or data connectivity does not affect all the systems at the same time.”

Roberts described the center as a segregated environment. The servers would be installed so that, not only do they have physically redundant connections to isolated switching equipment separate from the A and B core systems, they are also logically segmented to ensure proper control of broadcast and collision domains.

Project data

ERMCO had installed the original voice/data/video and wireless access infrastructure at ADESA’s Carmel location. The contractor had also already installed a handful of data centers and provided data redundancy and disaster recovery for many other firms, said David Peterson, ERMCO director of business development.

ERMCO began working on the $300,000 project at the Indianapolis site in December 2007 and completed the job in about five months. The ERMCO crew ranged from two to six men at peak.

“We had a pretty aggressive schedule with multiple unique challenges,” Glauber said.

The space needed new flooring, and cable trays had to be installed for cabling to be run below the ceiling. Because ADESA- wanted to get the center operational as soon as possible, the installation was done row-by-row. ADESA would install a row of cabinets, and ERMCO would run the cabling for that row. As the months passed, ADESA began using servers in some sections of the center while the ERMCO crew continued installation in other areas. This required caution on the part of technicians to not generate dust.

The greatest installation challenge came from the need to run cabling above the cabinets and racks.

“A lot of data centers have raised floors, which the cables are run through, but this project did not allow for that,” Glauber said. “So this installation stressed the aesthetic side. The guys really did a great job with it.”

The overhead raceways have blue and yellow color-coded cable indicating which rack—A or B—they go to.

Altogether, ERMCO installed 4,000–5,000 feet of 24- and 12-strand multimode 10 gigabit fiber cable and 100,000 feet of Category 6 copper cable into approximately 40 to 50 cabinets. The cabinets required retrofitting to allow the cabling to come from above, where it was run in overhead raceways in a ladder--tray system. ADESA also has a small caged-in area on the floor below to provide space for a testing facility that mirrors the data center upstairs. For that, ERMCO ran Cat 6 cable and fiber optic cable. All cable and fiber and related equipment was provided by Graybar Electric, St. Louis. The copper cable was manufactured by Belden, Richmond, Ind., and all copper and fiber connectivity was manufactured by Panduit, Tinley Park, Ill.

The co-location data center has other tenants as well, but ADESA fills most of the fourth floor of the building.

The company chose FiberTech Networks, Rochester, N.Y., to run fiber between its Carmel Corporate Headquarters and the Indianapolis Data Center.

Using multiple contractors posed some challenges, Babcock said, but with regular meetings and open communication, there were no problems coordinating the work.

Scott Glauber, project manager for ERMCO, met with Lifeline and ADESA as the project evolved, often several times a week, to keep the project on course.

Initially, the data center plan was to be for only a partial installation, with future installations as the company’s needs increased. However, once work began, it decided to complete the buildout to provide the backup needed now as well as what it expects to need in the future.

“We decided it wouldn’t sit well with people if we didn’t get it entirely done the first time,” Babcock said. “So we did all the work up front.”

And expansion plans are not far ahead, Babcock said. The company intends to eventually occupy the entire fourth floor of the building as well as add a facility at a new construction nearby known as Eastgate.

The completed center provides ADESA with more than the average data reliability.

“We’ve decentralized power and air to such a degree that it would have to take a catastrophic loss on multiple levels of the infrastructure to shut down the system,” Roberts said.

The new system will not only provide proper power and cooling to the 600 or so servers that will be installed when the company is finished, but also allow easier maintenance. Roberts said if he needs to shut down one system, the other system remains on while the maintenance work is done. In addition, the servers are connected in such a way that it is easier to access the parts needed.

“From an operational perspective we are very light on our feet. We can change a switch or do piecemeal work and not affect the system,” Roberts said

With all members of the team coming together to find solutions and stay on schedule, the final product was impressive.

“Because much of the cabling is visible to the eye, the success of the project is easy to see. If you look at it, it’s an absolute piece of art,” Theis said.

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.