U.K. data centre management challenges include people, power and tools

New reports say that the CIO is expensively undervalued, despite the business transformation CIOs can bring. But giving CIOs the technology tools may not solve the problem.

Running a data centre in the U.K. is fraught with challenges, and one of the toughest issues for data centre managers is a lack of recognition by upper management, says a new study.

It's an expensive mistake, according to Dr Andrew Tuson, the head of computing at City University, and he hopes to change it. London's City University which has close ties with industry, is creating academic courses to help support the next generation of data centre supremos and chief information officers (CIOs), and to give the profession the gravitas it merits.

The formation of the Centre for Information Leadership coincides with the unveiling of the Government's Digital Britain report. The Centre will provide short courses, continuing professional development, doctorates research and consultancy. In 2010 the centre will launch a master's degree in information leadership designed for experienced information professionals.

If and when the CIO emerges in overall control of the data centre, then we might see some progress.


Roy Illsley,
senior research analystButler Group

"Higher education helps [bring recognition] to accountants, lawyers and nurses and we say that CIOs should have the same," said Tuson. "We think that education only supports a CIO until they're in mid-career and then they're left in limbo."

Though 55 % of the U.K.'s productivity comes from technology-intensive sectors (according to the Office of National Statistics) there is scant recognition of the post, said Dr Tuson. But the job is incredibly complex, with CIOs involved in issues that span cost management, workforce, environmental concerns, corporate responsibility and ethics, business processes, strategy, innovation, competitive advantage, outsourcing and offshoring, IT governance and legal compliance.

UK data centre management and people power
Analyst Clive Longbottom, the service director at Quocirca, said the CIO's lack of recognition is a problem peculiar to the U.K., and one that has a wider impact on the economy as a whole. "In Britain, the CIO is a CIO in name only. He [or she] is likely to report to the CFO and won't have the recognition at board level of other C-level executives. The department is seen as a cost centre and inflexible. A CIO in the U.K. is likely to be perceived as separate from the business," said Longbottom. "If the perception changes, they might be of more strategic use," he said.

But many CIOs are too tied up in conflict lower down the hierarchy to advise the board on strategy, according to a new report by Butler Group. The firm's group infrastructure expert warned that Britain's CIOs don't even have control of the data centre yet, let alone influence on the wider economy.

Roy Illsley, a senior research analyst on infrastructure at the Butler Group, said the majority of data centres lack any kind of leadership as they have no overall person in charge.

"Some companies, [such as Morgan Stanley], have rationalised so there is a single person with responsibility for every aspect of the data centre," he said. "But in the majority of cases I see, they have never really got around to deciding who is responsible."

UK data centre management and electric power
Only about 30% of the CIOs in the U.K., for example, are held to account for the electricity bill, said Illsley. And yet this is now one of the most expensive and politically charged variables in any company's itinerary. "With the carbon footprint of any company becoming a crucial [issue] there's nobody to steer the company," he warned. "If and when the CIO emerges in overall control of the data centre, then we might see some progress."

Complicated data centre management tools
But it would be wrong to assume that CIOs and data centre managers are entirely 'on top of their brief' on the issue of management, argued transaction management company OpTier. It recently released a study that suggested that many new data centre management tools are unused because they are too complicated to use.

OpTier's new study among data centre managers indicates that IT experts find their data centre tools are so complex and confusing they make the job harder. As a result, each large business wastes more than £4.5 million a year, it says.

Making IT the framework for business strategy is all very well, as long as someone understands it. But three quarters of U.K. businesses don't. OpTier says complex, ineffective management tools lead to IT downtime and wasted staff time.

In May the organization interviewed 2,000 U.K. IT decision makers at businesses with more than a 1,000 employees, in retail, government, finance, telecoms and manufacturing.

Motti Tal, OpTier's managing director, explained why organisations have struggled to manage IT. The overload of tools causes more problems than they solve, he argued.

The firm claims more than two-thirds of businesses use more than three data centre management tools to monitor their IT environment and some [16%] use more than five.

At the heart of the problem is the way IT service is measured. Around three in four businesses still rely on using their server/network uptime as a measure of business service visibility, and a third rely on a dashboard of multiple system metrics.

The majority (57%) of IT managers said the lack of a single management approach is adding an extra layer of complexity.

"Complex IT environments are even more costly, and ironically data centre management systems are hard to manage. It's like trying to watch several TV programmes at once," said Tal. "This is hitting businesses hard," he said. "Businesses have to use three people and take two days, on average, to fix any a problem that is hard to pinpoint."

One shameful respondent confessed he needed 14 people to resolve a single critical incident, costing the business half a million pounds in staff costs.

"With belts tightening, companies cannot afford to keep losing money so needlessly," concluded Tal.

Nick Booth is a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.com.

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