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Data center design has to be flexible -- but not too flexible -- enough to change with the rapid pace of technology, be efficient and reliable -- three best practices many companies leave to the professionals to achieve.
Robert McFarlane is a principal in charge of data center design at Shen Milsom & Wilke LLC, with more than 35 years of experience as a data center designer, cooling and power expert.
McFarlane worked on instrumentation for a speech and hearing research lab at Colorado State University and then became director of IT for campus communications at Northern Illinois University, where he implemented telecommunication processing -- a feat that had never been done before. McFarlane later worked on interconnected mainframe data networks at the Blue Cross Association in Chicago, developed the telecommunications arm of audio-visual consulting firm Hubert Wilke -- including a stint in Iran -- and designed financial trading floors.
An expert in data center power and cooling, he helped pioneer cable design and is a corresponding member of ASHRAE TC9.9. McFarlane also teaches at Marist College's Institute for Data Center Professionals.
What advice would you give someone just starting out?
Robert McFarlane: I don't care what field it is, find some way to learn the basics. Education tends to gloss over the fundamentals. Get hands-on experience but learn the history of that field -- the basics are never going to change. There are fundamentals to every field and they [remain constant].
Do you think certifications are necessary?
McFarlane: Since everything in technology [changes], specific certifications will become obsolete; maybe in a few years there will be a different network platform, [for example]. If you are Cisco-certified as a network engineer, you might eventually have to get new knowledge and certifications in the future for a new job or a promotion. I recommend getting basic certifications.
You have to be able to adapt and move [with the changing technology]. I don't have any certifications because I don't really have the time, or see the need for them. They aren't useless though. If I were to get certified, I would get a LEED certification because having it can be useful [in my field].
What are the most challenging issues you have faced in the data center?
McFarlane: Cooling systems are the most challenging and innovative and interesting [component] in the facility.