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AFCOM president raps about upcoming DCW conference

With Data Center World (DCW) 2006 just around the corner, recently chatted with AFCOM President Jill Eckhaus, who touched on some topics on the docket for next week in Atlanta: standardization, temperature control, disaster recovery -- and why excitement trumps fear in the chaotic world of the data center manager. AFCOM, the Association For Computer Operations Management, started 26 years ago as a mainframe-only association, has since morphed to welcome anyone in the data center, and currently estimates its ranks consist mostly of nuts-and-bolts folk: 61% IT managers, 25% presidents/vice-presidents/directors and 8% supervisors.

How is Data Center World different?
Other conferences -- and I think these are great shows, for instance CA World or Share (an IBM user group) -- they are not vendor neutral. You know when you're there you're going to hear about those products and services. It's end users that come to AFCOM, to learn about technology, to learn about managing their data center.

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How will this year be different than last?
Last year's was phenomenally successful, and we also got a lot of great feedback from our attendees. We've since made some changes, like we added a track of sessions called 'emerging technologies' because our attendees decided 'we like to hear about what's going to happen, what the trends are going to be for these technologies.' Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to in Atlanta?
Before 9/11, we used to have physical data center tours, but because security has become such a huge issue we just can't plan for them anymore, so we put together what we call virtual data center tours. This year we have Georgia State University putting together a tour for us. Instead of going to facilities it's either live feeds or slide shows. Another one is GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters] intelligence technology, Europe's largest data center, which is exciting because we're bringing international flavor to the show. What are some common problems you hear? Are there any trends that stand out?
Standardization. We have a whole tutorial about this. Especially for government, regulatory issues, what are you going to do to make sure you're compliant with these things? From the facility side, it's newer technologies like blade servers; they're causing heat load in the data center -- people are actually resorting to building new facilities. And that's another trend: reconstructing your data center due to space issues, and the power and cooling issues as well.

Also there's disaster recovery. There's been terrorism, there's been floods, power outages, hurricanes. There's been so many major disasters, and people want to know: how can I prepare for this? Everybody's looking for what the data center is going to look like. 'I need to prepare and I don't want to install something that's going to be obsolete in five years or less.'
Absolutely. We have a session every year that we turned into a tutorial this year about best practices in the data center by Mark Levin [the senior partner of Mark Levin and Partners LLC]. It is consistently, every single show, standing room only. It is the most popular tutorial going on. People want to know what's going on. What's the hottest issue right now?
It could change two weeks from now, but right now people are building new facilities and they want answers to questions about heating and cooling, and they want recommendations. When they ask, we never recommend one particular vendor, but we have access to all of our members, so we go to our membership and let them talk to each other. That's a big thing right now, too. Peer-to-peer education. People want to learn from each other. Last year we started a series of handbooks called data center smart tools. The first one was published last year on data center safety. And it's the first of its kind in that, it was a handbook written by and for end users. So we have no vendors on this project at all. It's really the people that are in there doing the work that put the information together. What do you offer your members?
Membership is $255 and for that they receive a bimonthly publication -- six times a year of Data Center Manager. There's an HTML newsletter monthly. Access to a members-only site, which includes an interactive message board with chat capabilities. They receive access to our resource center, which has information, articles, white papers, industry problems and issues. They receive unlimited access to our hotline where they can ask us any question and we'll do the research for them. It's interesting because the trend was people stopped using the hotline for a while because they could just go on the Internet and get it, but now there's so many sites to look through just to get what you need that they're starting to come back. We give them answers, *usually* within 48 hours.

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