Human factors in the datacentre

Whether to ensure business continuity or maximise returns, everyone from the finance director to the facilities manager needs further datacentre education

We hear so often about datacentres in terms of financial outlay that it is sometimes easy to forget that achieving a successful return on that investment relies heavily on human beings.

The cost of datacentre development is what makes the headlines, with numbers usually concentrated around total capital outlay (‘Company X to build $500m datacentre’) or total megawatt capacity (‘Company Y to build 30MW facility’).

But the operational realities of ‘keeping the lights on’ are what underpin returns in the commercial colocation space and deliver services to a business so it can keep running and generate revenue.

Given the datacentre is the engine room of business in a myriad of sectors from financial services to retail, it is remarkable more emphasis has not been put on the human factor. The historical reasons for this are obvious. In most cases a datacentre is a building – or part of one – so its operation was the responsibility of the site facilities department.

The rise of the CFTO

But, as is shown by the latest report from the Ponemon Institute on unplanned datacentre outages, the stakeholders involved in datacentre management now include the facilities manager, CIO, datacentre management, chief information security officer and IT compliance leader. And recent findings from the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and IMA (Institute of Management Accountants) show that ever greater reliance on technology points to the rise of a totally new discipline – that of the chief financial technology officer (CFTO).

As CFOs take on a more strategic and globally-focused outlook, business technology will loom larger in their remit

Helen Brand, ACCA

Helen Brand OBE, ACCA chief executive, says: “ACCA and IMA’s futures research in 2013 has pointed to greater technological involvement for CFOs around the world. Their involvement in big data and technology trends is critical to business growth and profit. As CFOs take on a more strategic and globally-focused outlook, business technology will loom larger in their remit.

“Cyber security, cloud technology, virtual and augmented reality, digital service delivery and even artificial intelligence and robotics are featuring more in business strategy. CFOs are agents of change within today’s businesses. Who would have thought 10 years ago that these trends would become part of the CFO role? They are, and will continue to be so. We could see the rise and rise of the CFTO as a regular seat on the board.”

More dependencies

This new multidisciplinary world points to a fast-growing recognition that the datacentre is critical to business continuity and growth.

The C-level executives and middle managers whose responsibility it is to ensure the datacentre is always up and running now have more headaches and concerns than ever before, and they rely more than ever on the people working inside the datacentre.

Who works in the datacentre?

• Project managers
• Facilities managers
• Mechanical engineers and technicians
• Electrical engineers and technicians
• M&E consultants
• HVAC engineers
• IT managers
• Storage architects
• Data management specialists
• datacentre design consultants
• IT architects
• IT purchasers
• Environmental champions within IT
• Business continuity planning experts

A walk through any datacentre usually starts at the operations centre. The monitoring of environmental factors, powe quality and stability and IT equipment is a constant. Alongside the requirement for continuous operation is the added burden of operational efficiency. Utilisation is the key to cost efficiency. And of course we don’t live in a steady-state universe: datacentre professionals are under increasing demands to be flexible and accommodate ever more moves, additions and changes.

Ponemon’s figures show that more than 20% of datacentre outages are caused by accidents or human error. And while human errors are less expensive than, say, IT equipment failure, they still represent a significant cost.

Alongside the recognition at C–level, for the mechanical and electrical engineers who live and work in datacentres, training and career development have never been more vital.

Professional development

The need for relevant and appropriate technical training is recognised across the datacentre industry. Organisations such as the American Institute of Architects, the BCS, the Chartered Institute of IT, the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) all recognise the requirement for standards, industry best practice and the development of validated professional expertise in this area.

To remove uncertainty, what’s needed is a clear framework for professional development. This is key to broadening understanding of datacentre design concepts across different disciplines, and how they interrelate.

A clear framework for professional key to broadening understanding of datacentre design concepts across different disciplines, and how they interrelate

One place to start is to look at how you assess the business need for a datacentre in financial terms, from budgets and financial analysis to reporting requirements. This will enable the identification of the benefits, methodologies and techniques of effective and comprehensive risk management.

Other areas for development include datacentre energy efficiency best practices based on standards established by the EU Code of Conduct, ASHRAE, The Green Grid, BCS, US EPA and IEEE. By addressing trends in global energy and datacentre power consumption and the various energy efficiency drivers for different datacentre types, professionals can identify typical ‘worst practices’, apply metrics and regulations and explore tier levels and infrastructure resiliency in the context of energy efficiency.

A study by consulting firm McKinsey & Co suggests that by 2020 datacentres will release more greenhouse gases than the airline industry. Predictions like this, as well as pressure from environmentally conscious working groups and investors, have prompted operators to not only think about energy efficiency but also understand the root of power in the datacentre.

Cooling management is the product of the fundamental physical nature of any datacentre, since it is based on the conversion of electrical energy into heat and its subsequent dissipation. Understanding the thermodynamics of cooling addresses the conflict between efficiency and availability. For example, applying computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling to help to validate a datacentre facility’s design, and the placement of the equipment within it, explains the implications of equipment placement, installation and decommissioning on cooling and energy efficiency.

A detailed understanding of the impact of computing on the datacentre, as well as the knowledge of how to implement proper architectures and equipment in a manner that is complementary and compatible with the rest of the datacentre, is critical for reaching availability and business objectives. Building a cost-efficient computing platform that has the necessary reliability today and flexibility to cover future business requirements and increased workloads is as difficult and stimulating a challenge as exists in the world of IT today.

In whole or in part

Whether organisations require a comprehensive and wholly holistic perspective on their datacentre investments and operations, or have more specific requirements around particular disciplines, it is the accredited professional development of staff that will underpin successful datacentre strategies.

As anyone in finance will tell you, business cannot thrive in an atmosphere of uncertainty.

This article originally appeared in DatacenterDynamics Focus.

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