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Safe handling solution called for

23 January 2013

The installation and removal of computer servers within the telecommunications industry is vital. Whilst the actual process isn't technically difficult,problems do arise with handling of servers, especially when housed within a blade enclosure or chassis

The installation and removal of computer servers within the telecommunications industry is vital. Whilst the actual process isn't technically difficult,problems do arise with handling of servers, especially when housed within a blade enclosure or chassis.

BT Group is said to be the largest provider of fixed telephony in the UK, with its services extending through to broadband and digital television. BT currently has 30 data centres UK wide, all of which have server rooms. To utilise space, the servers are housed together in a blade chassis, which then slides into a cabinet. Server rooms can hold literally hundreds of cabinets, the connections of which take somewhere in the region of 36 kilometres of wiring.

A blade chassis or enclosure holds multiple blade servers which provide services such as the management of power, cooling, networking and various interconnectors. The combined weight of a blade chassis is upwards of 100kg and having the right handling equipment is necessary to install and remove the servers as and when required.

“The HP C7000 chassis holds eight fullheight or 16 half-height blade servers,” said Steve Gauge, BT's Technical Specialist at its data centre in Oswestry, Shropshire. “We needed a manual handling truck which will enable the operator to lift and manoeuvre the equipment in a safe and responsible way. The truck is also required to provide a solid foundation for the precise installation of the blade chassis. If the chassis is not aligned to the rack mounts exactly, its weight can damage the racks, making the cabinet unusable.”

BT's data centre specialists needed to find a manual handling truck which would provide safe operational use and also be able to fulfil the tasks required. BT looked to Wilmat, a specialist manufacturer of bespoke switchgear handling equipment.

“Being able to do a job first time and as efficiently as possible is very important to us, so we need the tools to help us achieve this. The equipment we use has to be solid, robust and reliable to enable us to reach our stringent installation and maintenance targets, both quickly and safely,” continued Steve Gauge.

Steve Gauge and his colleagues at BT's Oswestry site are also responsible for providing data centre training across the UK. Over the past three years they have developed the BTEC accredited “data centre services” training scheme. The scheme focuses on the installation and decommissioning of servers and the correct maintenance of racking and server cabinets. Recently they have expanded the training to include the handling of blade chassis.

“The course has been designed to cover all areas of practical data centre management, including racking, server installation and decommissioning,” said Steve Gauge. “We're currently developing training on the blade chassis; this includes using lifting equipment. We received an insight on using the Wilmat truck when we first purchased it from a technician who came out on site and delivered a training and familiarisation programme on how to use the truck, safety issues and best practice in general maintenance. We've taken this information and included it in the current training programme we deliver to all our data centres across the UK, ensuring correct procedures are adhered to at all times.”

In order for BT to maintain its position as an industry leader, it's also pivotal that the equipment it uses to support this comes with a full maintenance and aftersales service. However, as Steve Gauge explained: “Gaining access to one of our data centre sites can be difficult because of the security aspect, but Wilmat give us plenty of notification when they need to visit to complete the service contract. They always comply with our procedures, which can be stringent as one would expect, and there have been no abortive visits from the company.”

Looking ahead, as computer capacity becomes more powerful, the need for more servers will be required and space is already becoming a premium within data centres. This demand for space is ongoing and technology is already looking at ways to make servers more compact. The flip side to this is in the weight of the physical device. Lifting these compact server enclosures will require the use of robust and reliable manual handling trucks.

Wilmat is helping BT to stay at the forefront of technological advances by making the transportation and installation of the new generation servers as they come into operation an everyday task that can be completed safely and swiftly, which ultimately benefits all concerned, including BT's customers.

In fact, as Steve Gauge points out: “At the end of the day, we're here to make the connection to our range of services as quick and easy as possible for all our customers, and with the right equipment and support, we're achieving this and can look forward with excitement to what the future will hold for the telecommunications industry.”