It isn't often that you have access to your local neighborhood data centre, literally a few steps down the block. But I did. I live in a residential area of the US state of St. Louis called the Central West End, and I pass by the offices of the Regional Justice Information Service (REJIS) almost every day. When I learned that it was going to be moving its data centre, I knew that I had to be there for the actual move.
That was before I found out about the background check and how the move was taking place during the middle of the night. But I am getting ahead of the story.
In the process of reporting on the move, I got to see some terrific best practices about how to pick up your servers and minimize downtime, too.
Moving a data centre isn't easy under the best of circumstances. And no matter how hard you plan, there are still things that you don't think about, like a brand new elevator that wasn't working. (More on that, too.)
REJIS is an interesting enterprise: It was founded in 1976 to provide IT services to the public sector in the St. Louis area. The organization now handles more than 200 different government clients for applications development and it supports more than a dozen different programming languages.
It does batch and online processing, and hosted facility and server management. With more than $US15 million in annual revenue, the majority of customers are county and local government criminal justice agencies. But REJIS also provides data connections to the US National Park Service police that are based at St. Louis's most noticeable landmark, the Gateway Arch.
REJIS also supports more than 1000 mobile devices that are in local police cars. There are about 150 employees in the building, most as you can imagine involved in IT-related jobs. REJIS has about 100 Intel-based servers, mostly Dells, and an IBM eSeries, too.
Given REJIS's client base, it has all sorts of connectivity to its clients. Its complex network comprises frame relay, T1s, ISDN, cable modems, MultiProtocol Label Switching, fibre and even dial-up. All of these links are encrypted, as you might imagine given the sensitivity of the data that traverses these networks. And all of these connections had to be moved from their old wiring closet to the new one next door.
With all this connectivity, REJIS needed to take some extra steps to ensure that all the communications lines would work after the move.
REJIS also has a background investigation system and implemented the first automated fingerprint system in Missouri. I got to experience that first-hand — to enter its data centre during the move, I had to be checked out. This was one database that I didn't want any hits on and, luckily, I passed.
"When a cop pulls someone over on the street and runs a check on their plate and their driver's licence, you can get over 20 different responses from various law enforcement databases," says Eric Gorham, director of IT for the organization. "We can then organize this information for the officers in their patrol car."
REJIS had outgrown its 30-year-old data centre, located in the basement of the office building.
The old space didn't have enough floor space or cooling capacity, and REJIS also wanted new disaster recovery features. When it came time to expand, it decided to build a new data centre next door, in a former parking lot, and double its floor space in the process. The offices in the old building are still being used; the data centre is the only occupant of the new building. The new data centre would accommodate hot and cold aisles for distributed servers, rather than the old mainframe designs of the last century. "We had 12in raised floors that were getting crowded and reducing our airflow," says Gorham. "The new data centre has 24in floors so we don't have to worry about hot spots any more." The new data centre also provides more floor and rack space to grow the managed-hosting part of the service, and be a more secure facility in case of fire, earthquakes, potential flooding, severe wind events and tornados.
A basement isn't a good place for a data centre. "We are in an earthquake zone and our old data centre was below grade, not to mention being underneath a five-storey building. We have had some water there before, and it could have been worse," says Gorham. "Plus, there was a lot of dead wiring, too, that was blocking airflow. We needed a better disaster recovery plan and having a new data centre in a separate building will help."
Plus, the old building didn't have a loading dock, making deliveries of new computer gear difficult. Finally, REJIS wanted to act as a backup location for the main state data centre, located a few hours away in Jefferson City.
All these features were incorporated into the new building.