Data Center Management Challenges and Choosing the Best Preventative and Emergency Service Provider

By GARY WOODCOCK | 07/12/2012

Selecting the right data center maintenance service provider has become an increasingly important one based on a number of industry trends.  A comprehensive preventative and emergency data center maintenance program is an integral part to any business continuity/disaster recovery plan.  The selection of a provider will give data center operators the ability to bridge the increasingly blurring line between IT and facilities operations. Below are some of the challenges data center operators currently face:

Increasing IT infrastructure complexity

IT equipment power and cooling densities have dramatically changed.  Individual IT equipment racks have increased from an average of 1.5-2kW per rack just five to seven years ago to an astounding 15-20 kW per rack and, in some data centers, even higher.  This makes the task of powering and cooling at the rack level much more challenging.  Many legacy data centers were simply not designed to handle power and cooling loads of this magnitude.  The room for error is much smaller and now just a few minutes of interrupted cooling can produce serious consequences.

Brain Drain

The increasing number of retiring in-house facility managers is creating an industry brain drain.  Based on this and other factors, data center managers with IT backgrounds are increasingly taking on the responsibility of all “mission critical” facility operations.  Often these professionals are more familiar with servers, data storage, networking and virtualization (with good reason) than they are with HVAC systems, power distribution, backup generators, fire protection systems, and the like – the backbone of mission critical systems.

Tightening Internal Resources

Adding insult to injury, data center managers are being forced to do more with less.  Increasingly smaller in-house staffs and tighter budgets are the rule while uptime requirements remain static.  The daily challenge is to adhere to 24x7x365 uptime requirements without, as is the case with many organizations, around-the-clock onsite data center operators.

Alarms

All data center infrastructure equipment has a life cycle.  The key is to detect equipment changes that happen before total system break downs occur whenever possible, and to quickly and systematically react when failures do happen.  The proper interpretation and response to alarms is critical.  Some alarms require immediate onsite support while others are of a lower priority.  Your service provider can help with that determination.

Trends

Data center owners/operators are increasingly making the decision to work with a master data center maintenance service provider that coordinates all preventative and emergency maintenance services.  They are responsible for scheduling and executing all preventative and emergency service including when the equipment manufacturer support is necessary.  They will act as an extension of your data center management team.

Selection Criteria

The team:  On site technicians are the first line of defense.  Ask for their qualifications, experience and references early in the service provider evaluation process.
The business model: Service providers that have a true focus on mission critical infrastructure are preferred over “generalists” that work on various types of commercial and industrial facilities that simply do not have the same duty cycles and uptime requirements that are universal in the data center world. 
Service options:  Some organizations prefer “lump sum” contract pricing that includes all maintenance, service calls and equipment.  Others prefer a streamlined contract that includes maintenance but will pay on a time and materials basis for additional services and equipment.  It’s prudent to explore both scenarios during the evaluation process.
Although there have been many changes in the data center environment over the past eight to ten years, many things have remained the same.  Uptime requirements remain paramount.  Doing your homework during the service provider evaluation process can make the difference between efficient, uninterrupted operations and major service interruptions.
 
Gary Woodcock is Director of Business Development at Murphy Data Center Services, Company, St. Louis, MO.