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Hoarder Room or Server Room?

Dealership IT expert explains how well-organized server rooms protect equipment, save money, promote safety and reduce downtime.

March 2016, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Erik Nachbahr

Photo courtesy of iStock. 
Photo courtesy of iStock. 

Have you ever seen the TV show “Hoarders”? I bet you wondered how anyone could live like that. Well, I sometimes have the same reaction when I walk into a dealership’s server room. When I see a shelving unit stuffed with equipment and wires going every which way, I ask myself, “How can a business operate like this?”

But I understand how it happens. In a typical dealership, information technology (IT) staff is kept busy solving computer issues, performing general maintenance and dealing with occasional outages. If the IT function is outsourced, you only bring them in when there are problems. Whichever scenario describes your store, cleaning up the server room becomes a lot like cleaning out the garage: It’s not exactly fun and it takes a lot of time. So it tends to get shoved down the priority list and slapped with a perma-label that reads, “Someday.”

There is also a big risk involved with cleaning up the server room. If the mess in your server room has evolved over time, there probably isn’t a single person who knows how everything is configured. And once you start pulling equipment apart, there’s a great risk that your network — or at least parts of it — will go down. Downtime means lost productivity and screaming employees, which is never a pretty picture. On top of that, the IT hero who finally gets around to cleaning up the server room becomes the instant villain. So there’s not a lot of motivation there to tackle such an undertaking.

However, just like having a house filled with junk can be detrimental to a person’s health, having a disorganized server room can pose a detrimental risk to your business operations. Just because it seems overwhelming, doesn’t mean you should procrastinate. Cleaning up your server room will immediately benefit your dealership in the following ways:

1. Extends the Life of Equipment: Computer equipment is designed to have air flowing through it in a specific way. That’s why racks are designed with holes and spaces between the shelves. Cramming too much equipment into a small space creates improper air flow, which leads to overheating and damaged equipment. Additionally, cables that are hanging improperly and not supported pull on equipment ports, causing damage to both cables and connectors.

Damaged equipment reduces the life of equipment, which means you have to pay to replace it more often.

2. Improves Performance and Productivity: Damaged equipment doesn’t perform well, which slows down the network and reduces productivity as a result. And when that happens, profitability suffers. Need I say more?

3. Improves Reliability and Safety: Believe it or not, we’ve seen server rooms with mission-critical networking equipment plugged directly into outlets in the wall. In the world of IT, this is a big no-no. Electricity is vulnerable to spikes, dips and complete outages due to weather and a number of other conditions. If your dealership is hit by lightning and your networking equipment is plugged into the wall, you may as well take a few days off, because there’s a good chance that half your networking equipment just blew up.

Power strips and surge protectors are commonly used in dealerships. Problem is, many people believe power strips and surge protectors are the same thing. They’re not. Both provide multiple plugs, but not all power strips provide surge protection. Surge protectors prevent excess power from reaching connected devices. Surge protectors are better than power strips — and certainly better than wall outlets — but they’re still not ideal for businesses.

The best solution is a heavy-duty uninterruptable power supply (UPS), which regulates electrical flow and provides protection from power surges as well as insufficient power levels. These units come equipped with batteries so they can provide power and regulate its supply even in the event of an outage. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget to check and replace the batteries, which can cause damage to equipment and will render the UPS useless in the event of a power outage. A clean server room will display a reminder somewhere to replace batteries on a regular schedule, just like the batteries in your smoke detectors at home need to be replaced.

4. Streamlines Troubleshooting: When equipment is organized, clean and everything is labeled, it’s pretty easy to find and fix the source of a problem. When equipment is disorganized and unlabeled with wires running all over the place, finding the source of a problem can be a crapshoot. If a portion of your computer network goes down, the IT staff should immediately be able to say, “That’s the third switch, port No. 19,” and they should know exactly where that switch is and have easy access to it.

This is also important because you want your IT person or vendor to be able to figure out how your dealership network is set up. All too often, only a few people know where everything is and how it’s configured. If something happens to these people, the next IT person or company is going to have a pretty steep learning curve, which can threaten your dealership’s productivity.

When it comes to cleaning up your server room, the best solution is to hire an outside service or company with professionals who know what they’re doing. You may want to schedule the cleanup during your dealership’s “slow days,” whenever those happen to be. Also realize there may never be an ideal time because it’s a chore, but chores have to be done.

Like a clean house is healthier for inhabitants, a clean server room is healthier for your business. If your server room looks like the photo that accompanies this article, now is a good time to schedule a cleaning.

Erik Nachbahr is the president and CEO of Helion Automotive Technologies, a Timonium, Md.-based IT solutions provider for auto dealers. Email him at [email protected]

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