Data center manager jobs require far more than IT experience

Stephen J. Bigelow

IT professionals tasked with managing a corporate data center face enormous challenges, including system integration, automation, security and even facilities concerns. It's a pressure-filled role that can make or break a modern business.

But what do data center manager jobs offer, and when is it time to move along? TechTarget recently surveyed almost 400 IT professionals to gauge concerns, career characteristics, compensation and working environments. See how your IT job stacks up against others in the business.

If my users are successful, I've succeeded.

Ron Zawora,
IT administrator, Infocures

Technologies and initiatives for data center managers

When asked about job focus, 155 IT professionals noted that data center management tasks occupied the majority of their time. As 2014 looms, data center management tasks will remain a top concern for 31% of these IT professionals, while 30% will be involved with virtualization tasks and 23% expect to address security issues.

As IT professionals grapple with technological priorities, they must also provide value to the business -- it's a crucial trend that has transformed IT into an important business partner over the last few years.

As IT planners look ahead, 59% expect IT to provide operational efficiencies, allowing the business to operate more effectively. Examples might include service automation (such as a service ticketing/tracking system) and other systems monitoring or capacity planning software.

"Data center experts will need to add new software, such as mobile device management and domain management tools, to streamline user management," said Scott Gorcester, CEO of VirtualQube, a hosted services provider in Woodinville, Wash.

There are other priorities; 56% of respondents believe IT must increase employee efficiency in 2014. This can be accomplished with new or upgraded applications and self-service capabilities such as private cloud provisioning. Another 46% of IT professionals expect IT to add value by simplifying business processes using new tools and technologies, such as implementing a streamlined data protection or compliance regime.

Other data center managers note the growing importance of cloud services and cloud automation for better agility.

Experience and compensation for data center managers

While most survey respondents have well over 10 years of IT experience, the majority of managers have only been in their role for five years or less.

At least 39% of respondents report being in the IT field for 11 to 20 years, 34% have been in IT for 21 to 30 years, and 13% have worked in IT for over 30 years; only 12% have been in IT for six to 10 years, and just 2% have less than six years on the job.

In data center management roles, 50% of IT professionals have been in their current role for one to five years, 20% have held their role for six to 10 years, 17% have held the role for more than 10 years; but only 13% have been in the role for less than one year.

Many IT staff with less than one year in the current role reported leaving their previous role in favor of a new challenge or more money, while other professionals had prior roles eliminated.

Data center managers can generally expect to earn a solid living, reporting average total compensation (salary, commission and bonuses) of $117,793 (USD). In addition, 48% of data center managers expect a raise and 23% plan for a bonus. Another 24% expect to hold the line at their current compensation level. Only 1% of respondents expect a reduction in compensation.

Part of the compensation discussion involves value, and IT professionals often rely on training and professional involvement to improve their technical knowledge and job effectiveness.

"I'll use self-paced learning, like reading books and taking online courses," said Ron Zawora, IT administrator with InfoCures LLC, a technology services company headquartered in Pennsauken, N.J. Other IT professionals will seek more formal training, ranging from vendor training to college coursework.

But compensation doesn't always reflect the overall morale of an IT department; 38% of data center experts say the mood in IT is optimistic, buoyed by strong incentives to innovate, a more favorable business climate than recent years and the leadership of a strong management team. But 35% of respondents say the mood in IT is pessimistic, citing factors including limited career advancement opportunities, poor management, shrinking budgets and increased outsourcing. Another 26% of respondents say the temperament in IT is neutral.

Success for data center managers

Every IT professional wants to be successful, but the measure of "success" varies with individual and IT goals. For data center managers, 66% measure success by ensuring the reliability of IT services -- making sure that the data center continues to function seamlessly regardless of conditions or circumstances -- 41% like to complete projects on time to provide timely benefits to the business, 39% want to improve product or service delivery by deploying innovative technologies and streamlining processes, and 36% meet productivity goals.

Zawora explains that job satisfaction can be measured by integrity -- meeting your promises -- and facilitating the business cost-effectively.

"If my users are successful, I've succeeded," he said. "Bottom line is key; the more I save, the more I earn."

Sometimes success involves changing jobs. At least 25% of data center experts want to move up in the IT department, 21% want to move up in the overall organization, and 17% would stay in their current role. Just 13% would seek employment in a larger company. For example, the director of infrastructure with a major financial company reports he will soon change to an application delivery director role.

"I need to get additional lateral skills before I will be given the opportunity to move to the next level of leadership," Zawora said. "This should round out my abilities that will let me choose my next position."

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