Despite all the hype about datacenter, automation, remote access, virtualized management and software-defined everything, the actual effort that goes into managing corporate datacenters involves a surprising amount of heavy lifting.
Of 249 IT pros polled at “a large tech trade show,” 86 percent use good old muscle power when they have to lift, move or install rack-mounted datacenter equipment, according to a survey released Sept. 6 by ServerLift, whose “server lift solutions” are designed to take most of the effort out of moving big iron.
More than 90 percent of the IT people ServerLift polled admitted having to move or install equipment weighing more than 50 pounds; fewer than five percent admitted having any mechanical assistance with any of the heavy lifting.
ServerLift highlights statistics from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that warn carrying heavy things around the workplace is the leading cause of injuries among American workers, that 36 percent of injuries serious enough to cause employees to miss work due to shoulder and back injuries; those back injuries alone cost employers $50 billion in compensation and lost productivity every year.
Statistics like those (and the additional time it takes to lift and move everything by hand) long ago prompted most companies to invest in forklifts, load dollies and other mechanical assistance with anything heavy or awkward.
ServerLift estimates having one machine in the datacenter expressly designed to lift and carry all the other machines can cut the amount of time it takes to move or install heavy equipment in half. (Which isn’t surprising, considering the company sells such equipment.)
Two datacenter employees making $70,000 apiece, who move 30 pieces of IT equipment per month and take half an hour to manually install a 75-pound chunk of super-advanced information-management solution, could save their employers $6,300 per month by using automation to shove heavy metal into place more quickly.
While the value of automation and assisted-lifts seems obvious, ServerLift has gathered just 7.9 percent share of the server-hefting market. The company’s purpose-built server movers barely beat out generic “warehouse lift” equipment, which is used by 6 percent of respondents.
The survey doesn’t offer an explanation for why 86 percent of technologically sophisticated, highly trained datacenter staffers are, nonetheless, muscleheads who insist on lifting all the heavy metal of their IT infrastructures by hand.
A similar poll taken by ServerLift at Interop/Las Vegas in 2012 – which focused on danger to the equipment as much as to the employees – found more than 65 percent of datacenter staffers polled saw rack-mounted equipment dropped at some point during the previous year. Seventy-two percent reported fewer than four drops, however; 36 percent reported none at all.
Fifty-two percent of datacenter people at Interop said they knew of at least one person injured by lifting datacenter gear as well.
Oddly, the percentages showing the highest-risk datacenters were remarkably similar. Sixteen percent said they’d seen more than 10 pieces of equipment dropped and damaged during the previous year, while 14 percent said they knew of five or more injuries.
Though it’s thin evidence on which to establish causation, it’s possible the biggest problem isn’t simply the danger of lifting heavy things unassisted. The biggest risk may be from the reckless irresponsibility of the 15 percent or so of datacenters that contribute the highest number of injuries to both humans and hardware.
Data like that raises the question of whether it would be a good idea for datacenter specialists to do more than Google prospective employers or co-workers before taking a new job.
It might be a good idea to meet them in person instead, if only to check for scars.