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Fidelity's data center operation adds hidden value

Data center managers look to save money in any way possible. But initiatives -- like workplace satisfaction and efficiency -- add extra, unseen value.

BOSTON -- Data center managers have their minds set on saving money, but behind the scenes data center initiatives can increase value -- in more ways than one.

Joseph Higgins, vice president of engineering at Boston-based Fidelity Investments, addressed ways to add value in the data center during his keynote, 'Incredible Unseen Value in Data Centers' at the 2015 AFCOM Symposium here this week.

"Your end users don't want something done for a nickel cheaper," Higgins said. What they want is for it to be done as soon as possible.

Fidelity's standard metric is on-time server delivery with minimal rework required.

"Did we get it right the first time and get it done when it was needed?" he said.

Finding the root cause of problems makes you better, he said. Whether it's a motherboard on a UPS that burned out, or servers with accelerated failure rates -- it's important to check everything related to that problem and make sure it's remediated. Higgins suggests working with vendors and seeking out single points of failure.

"Go over every problem until it's painful, then go over it again," he said.

Companies can learn a great deal from widely publicized security breaches, such as those at Target and other high-profile businesses. Fidelity revalidated its own building-related networks supporting power, air, lighting and other control systems. 

Fidelity wants to achieve scale to bring down costs and also to have the buildings positively affect worker experience, Higgins said. More collaboration amongst staff members means more productivity.

Virtualizing the data center

Currently, Fidelity is at 65% virtualization in its data centers, and by 2016, it hopes to reach 70% virtualization. It operates with a 12MW data center footprint now, and it is shrinking even as the company adds capacity.

Fidelity's real estate costs -- including its data centers -- are less than 5% of its total expenses to run the business. That includes design, construction, operation and power. When Fidelity executives were asked to guess that percentage, they supposed real estate was between 20% and 30% of the company's total expenditure, Higgins said, because you see that investment every day. Now, 40% of Fidelity's power goes to its data center. Fidelity has used less and less energy as its footprint has grown since it started to track this metric in 2007.

So the question is less about cutting data center costs; it's more about how the data center can manage complexity and security for the business.

Attention to detail

So the right question is less about cutting data center costs, and becomes about how the data center can manage complexity and security for the business.
Joseph Higginsvice president of engineering, Fidelity Investments

Fidelity's data center is ISO 14001 certified -- a comprehensive energy management standard. The ISO 14001 certification is important because "it's a 'Good Housekeeping' stamp of approval," Higgins said.

"Fidelity spends 2,000 hours per year to manage its certifications, because it creates a competitive advantage," he added.

Workplace efficiency to enable productivity, employee satisfaction, the environment and customer loyalty, are all intangible ways to increase value in Fidelity's environment. The partnerships developed between the business units, CIOs and real estate partners is crucial to daily operations, Higgins said.

The 3S initiative

Security, stability and safety are non-negotiable standards for Fidelity and offer crucial data center value. The 3S program, which focuses on these three criteria, provides senior executives with information on how Fidelity is improving these three areas in its business and operations.

Fidelity maintains regular control via its Risk & Resiliency Committee. The committee undergoes an internal audit process with two independent auditors. The auditors perform a maintenance report check, which adds value to the business -- and allows the IT team to say with certainty that those systems are ready to go and the business is safe, Higgins said.

A good business has to:

1. Have a good business case -- but this takes time;

2. Embrace the community; and,

3. Take risks -- a lot of new things are coming down the line.

Fidelity is interested in open standards, observing the work done by Facebook with the Open Compute Project. Fidelity looks for white box features for compute, storage and networking. Instead of just using the top-tier IT equipment vendors that have ruled the market for decades, Fidelity is re-evaluating everything from how it does top-of-rack switching to power supplies and servers.

Fidelity wants to order data center space like a piece of equipment, using modular building practices. There's a higher level of quality control and other benefits for a plus/minus 5% price difference, Higgins said. On the inside, it looks like a traditional data center, but this data center is constructed offsite and bolted together on-site, much like having a generator delivered.

Sharon Zaharoff is the assistant site editor for SearchDataCenter.com. You can reach her on Twitter at @DataCenterTT.


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