When Two Become One: IT & Facilities in the Data Centre


Data Centre consultant Steve Bowes-Phipps discusses the roles of the Data Centre Manager and Facilities Manager

I can honestly say, I have yet to see a well-run facility where the Data Centre Manager has complete control over all operational and infrastructural aspects of the Data Centre
— Steve Bowes-Phipps | Senior Data Centre Consultant
 

I’ve been intimately involved with Data Centre operations for over 20 years and, for at least the first five years, I didn’t think about power and cooling at all.

 

 If I wanted to put a new cabinet or server in place, I contacted Facilities and they sent a “sparky” (electrician) over. If the Data Centre went down it was bad, but not catastrophic, as most critical processes could be run on paper. However, something changed; from 1998, 1U and 2U “pizza box” servers started to replace the mainframes and minis that the likes of SUN, IBM and HP sold in their enterprise ranges. You could (and people often did) stack them high in a 42U cabinet, resulting in the consumption of considerable amounts of power and putting out a fair amount of heat in a relatively compact space. Everyone started to talk about “power consumption” and “kW/rack”, but the job of Data Centre Manager and Facilities Manager were still quite distinct.

 

Data Centres as the engine of growth 

 
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As the Noughties progressed, Data Centres were gaining recognition as the “engines of growth” for organisations and national economies. Yet they could no longer sustain the massive demand for power, and the consequent exhaust of thermal energy emitted, as the servers hit the market. Eventually, in the late part of the decade, the Data Centre industry started to investigate how power and cooling capacity could be minimised in Data Centre operations; culminating in an EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres issued by the European Commission and the Green Grid organisation giving birth to the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric as a way of measuring a Data Centre’s use of power.

This new focus on energy efficiency brought the roles of Facility Manager and Data Centre (i.e. IT Operations Manager) into either congruence or conflict. In order to enact Best Practices a holistic view of the Data Centre was required but few organisations reacted to this by combining both roles. I have seen a lot of Data Centres over the last eight years and, without any exception, I can honestly say, I have yet to see a well-run facility where the Data Centre Manager has complete control over all operational and infrastructural aspects of the Data Centre. In fact the more separated the roles of Facility Manager and Data Centre Operations Manager are, the more likely a Data Centre will be very inefficient and ineffective; putting at risk an organisation’s entire business through lack of full control, focus and total oversight of performance.

 

Facility Managers rarely have the IT skills to understand what happens within a Data Centre

 

There is a very simple reason for this: Facilities Managers rarely have the IT skills to understand what happens within a Data Centre. Although Data Centre systems (plant and equipment) appear to be similar to general office systems, they are operated very differently and usually at a scale far removed from keeping human beings comfortable and safe. Similarly, IT Operations Managers often lack the skills possessed by Facilities Managers. Speaking as a Data Centre Manager who came from the IT side long ago, decisions are often made that intuitively seem to make a lot of sense, but in reality go against good engineering principles and practices, resulting in poor Data Centre performance.

If your organisation is completely reliant on the business services driven from your Data Centre(s) (and let’s be honest, those services are in a Data Centre for a reason – they’re important!) why would you not want to have one person responsible for all aspects of it? Having a Data Centre Manager provides a focal point for innovation, process and procedures, and, more importantly, maintains availability and reduces cost of ownership.

Of course, there are organisations out there who believe that they can do all these things without combining both roles. That is quite possible, albeit with notable reliance on sound business practices such as a Data Centre Change Advisory Board (DC-CAB), a well-documented, agreed and widely disseminated Data Centre Strategy, and rigorous controls over access and implementation processes. If you’re not one of those organisations, then give us a call and let us help!

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