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Data center facilities managers are from Venus, IT pros are from Mars

Data center facilities and IT folks don't always get along too well. What can you do to form a more perfect union?

LAS VEGAS -- The gap between data center facilities and IT personnel needs to shrink. IT people on one side want to provision servers quickly as applications grow. Meanwhile, data center facilities employees need more advance notice on computing equipment coming in so they can plan whether it requires a new uninterruptible power supply (UPS), a generator, or expansion of the existing data center or building a new one.

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 Much of it boils down to a simple lackof communication, according to Joe Saroka and Eric Maxfield of Total Site Solutions, who spoke at the AFCOM Data Center World conference in Las Vegas last week.

Maxfield told the story of one IT client who ordered a new storage area network (SAN) system without consulting with facilities first. The facilities manager refused to allow it in the data center because the raised floor wouldn't have been able to shoulder the weight of the equipment.

"That SAN stayed on the dock for eight months while a new facility that could handle it was being built," Maxfield said.

Keith Berlin, a facilities engineer at The University of North Carolina in Greensboro, said he's quite familiar with the sparring that can sometimes happen between IT and facilities people.

"I stepped into my role two years ago," he said. "We had a situation where the facilities guys were told that they couldn't test the generator because the IT guys didn't want to cause an outage."

Technology time, facilities time

Fundamentally, IT and facilities managers are thinking about problems along a different time scale.

When a data center facilities manager plans a new building, they want it to last 15, maybe 20 years, especially since large, high-density data centers can set a company back more than $100 million. If the data center facilities manager can't justify that cost with some guarantee that the building will be useful for a long time, his job is tenuous at best.

But the exponential increase in computing power that is incorporated into the onslaught of new IT equipment year after year never fits the 20-year facility cycle. On average, IT thinks in a six-to-eight year cycle -- sometimes longer if you're talking about midrange or enterprise platforms, less if talking about x86 equipment.

"We need to know when we should reach out to facilities in this process," Maxfield said. That brings us to the communication break down.

A simple lack of communication from both sides can lead to a SAN sitting on a dock for eight months.

"I think there is a lack of understanding from each side, and I think it's a pretty much universal problem," said Ken Bradford, manager of IT operations for Family Dollar Storage of Michigan Inc. "Everyone needs to work on that relationship, starting small and trying to build on it."

One solution to the problem may be to model and forecast IT growth.

The IT growth model document

"IT demands tend to be predictable because the change is constantly happening," Saroka said. "Without an idea of where you're going on the IT side, facilities isn't going to be able to do anything."

A basic growth model would indicate how fast applications are growing per year on average, how much server provisioning is done per year, and how much in facilities resources, such as power, space and cooling, it takes to handle those additions. Then data center facilities managers can figure out, for example, that five years down the road capacity will be filled, and the company will need a new data center.

These types of details also help data center personnel -- both on the facilities and IT side -- get what they want from upper management. By providing backup documentation that shows that the IT equipment is going to outgrow the facility in a certain amount of time, both sides can justify their costs.

"The real issue on the IT side is you can start planning early, but you really can't push information to the facilities side until you have a growth model," Maxfield added.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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