Data Center Managers Share Pain Points

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2007-09-18

Data Center Managers Share Pain Points

DALLAS-About 850 seasoned IT professionals who have worked their way up to taking in charge of a data center, or groups of data centers, are currently here at the Gaylord Texan hotel on the pretty shores of Lake Grapevine, trying to discover new ideas for how to make their companies IT more efficient. And, by and large, they say they are getting that instruction.

"Well, one or two of the talks I heard were a little superficial, but overall I'm happy with the conference," one data center manager who asked not to be identified told eWEEK.

There are few corporate public relations people in attendance. As a result, some data center managers are reluctant to speak on the record about their enterprises trials and travails in day-to-day IT. Many are not specifically empowered to do so; corporate regulations can be nasty that way, one seasoned pro told eWEEK.

Due to tight competition in most IT sectors, a trade or business secret theoretically could slip out from one company in an interview that could help a competitor get an advantage.

Nonetheless, eWEEK did find some managers who didn't mind talking candidly about their companies and their jobs.

Scott Wright, IT facilities manager for HCA (Hospital Corporation of America) in Louisville, Ky., runs eight large data centers spread out as far north as Alaska and as far south as Florida.

Wright, admittedly not an IT specialist ("They don't let me near the computers, I just handle the facilities") told eWEEK that he came to the conference because he wanted to find out about the latest in data center design and power and cooling trends, and explore "green" eco-friendly opportunities.

At the conference, there has been a lot of talk about problems with internal corporate rifts-sometimes they're described as "chasms"-between data center IT personnel and their facilities counterparts, who must work closely together in their fiefdoms. Many of the issues center around which department should pay power bills, which aren't going anywhere but up.

But Wright and several others that eWEEK contacted didn't see that particular issue as being a problem for them.

"We're pretty unique, I think, in data center circles, because our centers are not run by central corporate facilities folks," Wright said. "They're run by the IT department. In fact, we [in the IT group] all have to know about both facilities and IT, because they have to work so closely together. We really don't have any problems [with dividing up responsibilities or paying the bills]."

Sun Microsystems Director of Sustainable Computing Mark Monroe, one of the conference speakers and a former data center manager himself, said facilities and IT departments typically report to the CEO through different lines of responsibility. Members of the IT department most often report to the CIO, who reports to the CEO; the facilities department generally reports to the chief financial officer, then to the CEO.

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Data Center Managers Share '

"This is where the trouble can happen ... Two different lines of reporting, two different budgets," Monroe said. This can be alleviated, he said, by "getting the money all in one place."

"The CIO is usually one of the target consumers of energy," Monroe said, "but the VP of facilities pays the bill. If an enterprise can align energy spending with budget responsibility, things will smooth out. Give the CIO an electric budget; give facilities the IT capital; and allow for savings to be accounted for where they happen."

The CIO will be motivated to stay within the budget, facilities will pay the bill and both can take credit when credit is due, Monroe said.

HCA Data Center Manager Jerry Ballard told eWEEK that his facility in Orlando, Fla., has about 350 to 400 servers divided into four rooms.

"Even though were getting a ton of new information [including various types of health records and X-ray imaging] each day, were running well within capacity," Ballard said. "We don't see any major problems right now with our system."

Ballard did say that he is in the process of replacing some older servers in one of the rooms. "We're doing a revolving kind of refresh," he said, "one room at a time, but there's no rush on it."

Debora A. Brugman, manager of operations support for Ameritas Life Insurance in Lincoln, Neb., told eWEEK that she was here to learn the exact steps to take in the event of a power failure or other disaster situation.

Ameritas has two data centers-one in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the result of a merger, and one in Lincoln-and Brugman, whos in training to possibly take over management reins in a couple of years, is trying to learn all she can as fast as she can.

"We've got certain issues were trying to solve involving integration, and I think we'll have good ideas to share when we get back," Brugman said.

Read more here about how the EPA plans to improve server energy efficiency.

Another data center manager, who asked that he not be identified because he's not officially empowered to speak for his company, said he came to the conference looking specifically for cooling help.

"We're spending about eight times more on cooling than we should be," he said. "We've got [alternative] natural gas engines and diesel engines, yet we're spending $35,000 per month on power. We put in daylight dimming and other measures, and we can drop a quarter-megawatt demand in a minute and nobody in the building would notice anything.

"We are monetizing our alternative power assets pretty well," he said. "We will get credit from the utility for coming under our ceiling-we have pre-negotiated rates. We come in under our peak 2-hour allowance each day. Going forward, the [refurbished] facility we are building will look totally different in a year or so. Electrical is now the largest cost within our group, and it's teed up to be even larger, so we've had to make some big moves

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