Being a data center engineer requires a broad base of knowledge and skills to successfully troubleshoot hundreds of different configurations and environments. Knowing what to do is a huge part of the job – but having the right tools on hand is just as important. Any sort of delays with infrastructure can be costly, especially if a server is running a mission-critical app or service. That’s why our engineers think and plan carefully to make sure they have what they need, right when they need it.

Nathan Wilson, one of NetActuate’s data center engineers, spends most of his days at our flagship datacenter in Raleigh, resolving issues, upgrading equipment, and replacing parts. He, along with several other technicians, ensures our (and our clients’) infrastructure is fully optimized for availability and performance.

Because NetActuate operates over 40 locations worldwide, Nathan also does a fair bit of globe-trotting as well. He travels the world to grow our footprint, troubleshoot urgent issues on site, install customer equipment, and expand our network. To make sure he has the right tools on hand, Nathan lets us take a look inside his “go bags” – both his TSA-optimized one and his local onsite bag.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s in Nathan’s go-bag:

There are several things to consider when choosing the right laptop for global data center troubleshooting. You’ll want a laptop that has a wide range of ports, so some of the more streamlined, lightweight models may not work as well. In addition to having as many USB ports as you can find, you’ll want an ethernet port, for fast, direct connections to servers. Additionally, your onsite Wi-Fi performance can vary greatly, so preloading a folder with images of your most commonly-used operating systems (such as FreeBSD and CentOS), as well as bootable system rescue software (with a range of diagnostic tools) can save a lot of time when restoring a server after a crash. One good option is a Lenovo Thinkpads for their rugged design and long battery life.

Noise Canceling Headphones
Data centers, especially where the racks are located, are very loud. Headphones with active noise-canceling help drown out all of the loud fans from the servers and other equipment.

Portable KVM Adapter
A portable KVM adapter allows you to connect the monitor and keyboard output of a server to your laptop. This allows you to see the output of the server console and gives you full control of the server from your laptop. This is very useful to have especially since some data centers may not have a crash cart.

Label Maker
Portable, legible, self-adhesive documentation is very handy when swapping out parts, so you can easily label bad drives and other problematic pieces of hardware. Also, it is great for labeling the USB drives, servers, cables, and more.

Fiber Patch Cables
When replacing a cable that’s failed or placing a new connection, it is always helpful to have a set of fiber patch cables right at hand. Create a set that includes cables of various lengths, with a mix of both LC and SC connectors.

Serial Console Adapter
To quickly and easily connect your laptop to console into a router or switch for reconfiguration, it is helpful to keep a console cable with USB adapter in your bag.

Wi-Fi Adapter
As we’ve mentioned before, Wi-Fi connectivity in a data center can be spotty at times. Having a Wi-Fi adapter is helpful for making a quick hot spot on the go.

C14 PDU Power Adapter (C14 to NEMA 5-15R)
When performing longer diagnostics and installations on a server, it helps to be able to plug your laptop into the PDUs in the cabinet, so you aren’t limited by the battery life. These small adapters are very small and inexpensive, so check the PDU type of the location you are going to work on to keep all the adapters you need right on hand. Most NetActuate server racks use C13 PDUs, so Nathan uses a C14 to NEMA 5-15R power adapter, which is needed to charge his laptop that uses a NEMA-515 plug.

USB Hub with an RJ45 Port
To make sure you are able to connect your USB drives to errant servers, keep a couple of lightweight USB hubs in your backpack. When you run into a server that only has a limited number of ports, or you find that the ports are disconnected, malfunctioning or hard to get to, having a USB hub means you can still quickly and easily connect your keyboard, laptop, mouse, and thumb drives. Additionally, most laptops don’t come with RJ45 ports, so a USB hub with an RJ45 port can be very helpful.

Double-Sided Roll of Velcro
​​To organize and structure cables, it helps to keep a roll of double-sided velcro, pre-cut and ready-to-use, in your bag. When zip ties are used, it can be hard to trace a cable because they inhibit the cable’s movement. It is also really easy to clip or cut part of a cable when removing a zip tie. With double-sided velcro, you also save money and create less waste because the lengths of velcro can easily be removed and used again.

RJ45 Crimper, RJ45 Couplers, RJ45 Connectors, and Side Cutters
A range of connectivity issues are often caused by clip failure or other issues with the cables themselves. To be ready for this common first troubleshooting step, you can keep a small bag of RJ45 connectors and couplers and a good side cutter and wire crimper on hand. The side cutters are also useful for cutting velcro for cable management. For local onsite visits, it is helpful to keep a box cutter in your bag for opening equipment shipments.

Multi-bit Screwdriver
When installing or moving around servers in different cages and cabinets, you are bound to encounter any number of different screw heads. The best answer is to keep a multi-bit screwdriver in your backpack so you know you will have what you need. There are small, lightweight ones that are short and TSA compliant for flying to a data center location.

PCI Bracket
Removing standard cage nuts in server racks can be frustrating and painful. There are expensive custom removal tools, and even more expensive alternatives to cage nuts, but one quick, cheap and easy answer is a PCI slot panel or two. It is the right size and shape to remove cage nuts quickly and painlessly.

Magnetic Flashlight
Data center racks can be dark and hard to see inside. Getting a light source to just the right spot can be tricky, so we recommend keeping a magnetic flashlight that can be affixed to the inside of a rack in your go bag.

Thermal Paste
Swapping out a CPU is a very common task for data center engineers, so keeping extra tubes of thermal paste on in your go bag will make sure you have it when you need it.

To avoid becoming a hangry tech when things take longer than expected, it helps to keep some pre-packaged bars or other small (non-messy) food items in your bag. A small pack of band-aids for minor mishaps Tylenol or Ibuprofen, and lip balm (for those cool, dry datacenters) are also great to have ready when you need them. If you wear glasses, lens wipes can be helpful for a long day in the data center. 

Keeping thousands of servers up and running around the world means being knowledgeable – and mobile. Our global team of data center engineers are working around the clock to keep our servers, routers, and other equipment, up, running, and fully optimized. We hope this look into Nathan’s “go bag” will prove to be a useful resource, as well as an interesting look at the tools and skills required to successfully support the infrastructure that runs today’s data-driven economy. If you’d like to speak with one of our engineers about your global deployment needs, schedule a call today.