IT administrators and their counterparts in the facilities department traditionally have had little need to work together on issues related to corporate data centers.
The IT folks were in charge of the technology brought in, while the facilities were more concerned about not only the data center, but all aspects of a companys operations, from heating systems in the offices to the parking spaces outside.
However, with power and cooling rapidly becoming top concerns in data centers, communications between the two sides is becoming crucial, and something that not enough businesses are addressing, according to attendees at the AFCOM Data Center World show in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 10-13.
“Its a pretty significant problem,” said Gerard Gallagher, president and CEO of Total Site Solutions, an engineering and design company in Beltsville, Md., that includes data centers among its expertise.
“Ninety-nine percent of [businesses he deals with that are building data centers] have the facilities client side and the IT client side. Rarely are these two guys on the same page.”
Steve Carlini, director of product management for American Power Conversion, in Kingston, R.I., agreed.
“Youd think that with all these problems, thered be more collaboration. But no,” he said.
Five to 10 years ago, when the rush was on to bring more technology into the data center and power costs and real estate were not concerns, such a disconnect wasnt as big a deal.
However, increasing densities in the data center with technology such as blade servers and rising energy prices have pushed power and cooling costs to the top of the list of issues for data center managers.
Companies like Google, which are building out huge server farms, estimate that by next year, it will cost more to power and cool their data centers than it will be to buy the systems that go into them. Those IT administrators who have more traditional data centers also are feeling the squeeze.
Technology vendors such as chip makers Advanced Micro Devices and Intel and OEMs such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems are building more energy efficient products, with the goal of increasing the amount of work they do while dropping the amount of energy they consume. Virtualization will also play a role in easing energy costs.
In addition, the concerns have brought power supply companies like APC and Emerson Network Powers Liebert division to the forefront, and have reinvigorated debate over the use of such technologies as DC power and liquid-cooling devices.
Power and cooling concerns have also put a spotlight on the need for IT and facilities people to work closer to efficiently design and run their data centers.
“The need for optimized modular data centers will force closer cooperation between facilities design, data center operations and line-of-business management, particularly because superoptimized design may require periodic modular changes in floor space and cooling capacity to handle spikes,” Forrester Research analyst Richard Fichera wrote in a March 8 report titled “Power and Cooling Heat Up the Data Center.”
Poor communication can lead to lost time and money, Gallagher said. For example, IT may order systems that cant be supported by the existing data center infrastructure, or maintenance schedules may not be in sync with whats needed to keep the technology running most efficiently.
“The IT guys will no longer just be able to buy a server and toss it over the wall to the facilities guys and say, Get it done,” said Arun Kamath, IT infrastructure consultant for Fusion Infotek, of Westmont, Ill.
There has to be planning and cooperation before a purchase is made, he added.
Some companies are trying to bridge the gap between IT and facilities, “but they still have a ways to go,” Kamath said.
Bradley Chilcote, manager of network services for the American Heart Association in Dallas, Texas, ran into that problem. When appointed to his job three years ago, he found that some of the UPS (uninterruptible power supplies) were running at more than 80 percent and needed to be upgraded.
Reasons for the Disconnect
Chilcote had almost bought the UPS when he found out that he “couldnt do what I wanted to do because the UPS I wanted would outstrip what our generator could do.”
The lesson showed him the need for his department and facilities to keep open the lines of communication.
“It is a challenge to keep in communication and not make assumptions,” he said. “We have grown to the point where with everything we do, we do very much keep in touch with facilities.”
There are multiple reasons for the disconnect, said Eric Maxfield, vice president of Total Site Solutions, who gave a presentation at the Data Center World show addressing the issue.
The two sides see data center projects differently. The facilities people have a traditional approach to procedures and schedules and want as little change as possible. By contrast, IT folks are constantly thinking about change.
In the same sense, what the facilities people oversee—the physical infrastructure and space of a companys assets—does not change often, while IT people are regularly updating and changing the technology they use, Maxfield said. And what changes on one side of the aisle impacts the other side.
“On the tech side, they turn over their technology frequently,” he said. “On the facilities side, its the opposite. You dont want to buy a generator every two years.”
The shift toward doing business on the Internet also has fueled problems. Unlike 10 years ago, a companys Web site always has to be up and running.
For transaction-based industries, any downtime means money is being lost. That puts more pressure on the facilities side to ensure that the technology is kept running, Maxfield said.
Another issue is money. The IT and facilities departments have their own budgets, and therefore their own priorities.
In his keynote address at the show, Bruce Shaw, vice president of worldwide commercial and enterprise marketing at AMD, said that a survey done by the chip maker last year showed that 71 percent of those polled said power and cooling were becoming problems.
However, 62 percent said they were not changing their buying behavior because of it. Why?
“Because the person writing the checks for every bill has nothing to do with the data center,” Shaw said.
Vendors are now trying to bridge that gap. For example, some engineering and design companies like Total Site Solutions have expertise in both the construction and facilities sides of things as well as the IT side, Gallagher said.
Power supply company APC, when it engages a client, will offer a service designed to bring the two sides into the discussion as early as possible, trying to determine everything from common goals to governance issues, Carlini said.
“Well go in and forge a relationship between IT and facilities,” he said, adding that businesses are aware of this issue. “You start asking questions and they start asking what other companies are doing.”
Liebert, a unit of Emerson Network Power, in Columbus, Ohio, traditionally had dealt with the facilities side of the table, but about 18 months ago appointed Jim Hall to a new position as IT market development manager, responsible for making inroads into the IT space.
Hall said he is working both directly with customers as well as through their channel partners to more aggressively address the IT client side.
Businesses also are beginning to recognize the need. One telecommunications company in 2005 took an engineer from the facilities team and reassigned him to IT to work as a liaison between the two departments, according to the engineer, who didnt want himself nor his employer identified.
Lori Nelson, data center manager for Wright Express, said she meets regularly with the facilities department. Her company has about 650 employees, of which about 125 are IT and about 12 are facilities.
The South Portland, Maine, company, which provides payment processing and information management services to the vehicle fleet industry, is growing quickly with daily transactions growing from 250,000 several years ago to 900,000 now, Nelson said.
“I communicate with them whenever I have any new product coming into the facility,” Nelson said. “Communication is important. “Were growing quite a lot. It works great if IT and facilities are clear about what their needs are.”