Datacentre execs need more than just IT skills

A knowledge of the other areas involved in running a large facility is vital, say industry players

Companies are facing increasing difficulty in their efforts to find qualified datacentre managers, since the required skills have expanded beyond IT expertise to a mix of IT, facilities and security management abilities.

“Traditionally, datacentre managers did focus on IT,” says Jill Eckhaus, chief executive of AFCOM, a US-based professional association for datacentre managers.

“Today, they do so much more,” she says. “With companies running out of datacentre space and encountering power and cooling issues, it’s extremely important for datacentre leaders to be educated in other areas, such as facilities.”

Eckhaus says AFCOM estimates that by 2015, “the talent pool of qualified senior-level technical and management datacentre professionals will shrink by 45%.”

She noted that an AFCOM survey completed last year found that nearly 40% of its members reported having unfilled datacentre positions, and that 15% said it takes them six months or longer to fill open senior-level technical or management positions.

Neal Smith, datacentre manager for core services at Intel’s Oregon datacentre operations, says the results are not surprising.

“The datacentre is where everything comes together — networking, facilities, business units, security and storage,” he says. “You have to understand all these moving parts.”

In addition, the mounting pressures of compliance with regulatory mandates, energy constraints and finding locations for expansion often fall on the datacentre manager’s shoulders, Smith says.

“Senior management will not stand for finger-pointing between facilities and systems,” says John Oyhagaray, vice president of programs at 7x24 Exchange International, a knowledge exchange for those who design, build, use and maintain information infrastructures. “There is no room for a segregation mind-set. In the datacentre, everyone is responsible for system uptime.

“The best thing an IT manager can do is to learn a little something in each of the areas they know nothing about and develop a base knowledge,” he says.

For example, Smith says power concerns and the move towards eco-friendly computing makes some knowledge of electrical systems, heating, ventilation and air conditioning a must for datacentre workers.

“The density of computing has gone up tremendously because of technologies like blade servers,” Smith says. “That has all sorts of implications on your overall datacentre power and cooling.”

Smith notes that he has gained knowledge of facilities chores by working with experts during his 15 years on the job. “I’d buddy up with the facilities team; that’s where I gained most of my knowledge,” he says.

Tim Mills, datacentre manager at Cardinal Health, says he learned facilities skills during a recent datacentre upgrade from a Tier 1 electrical architecture with many single points of failure to a Tier 4 dual-bus infrastructure.

“While I don’t have to understand the details, I do have to understand the major components and know how to react if we have an issue,” he says.

Doug Lauterbach, datacentre director at BayCare Health System, says datacentre managers should also learn process management skills, which will become very important as companies turn to utility computing.

He also believes that datacentre managers should study up on eco-friendly computing. “We have extreme environmental pressures, and I have had to educate myself on what it means to be a ‘green’ datacentre,” he says. “I’m trying to lower the ceiling of power consumption.”

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