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At Schneider Electric, we work with companies that own and operate dozens of data centers worldwide as well as some of the largest in the world. In working with these companies, we’ve uncovered what appears to be a hidden truth: running data centers is not typically a core competency for these folks.
That won’t be a surprise to any enterprise company. If you’re in finance, retail or just about any other vertical industry, your core competency lies in producing and selling whatever it is your company is all about. Running the data center is simply a critical supporting function, not a core competency.
It’s much the same even for colocation companies, many of which operate like real estate companies at heart. They’re focused on buying buildings and selling space; it just so happens the space houses data centers. Often, they grow through acquisition, which means they may have data centers in their portfolio coming from companies with wildly divergent views on best practices in data center operations – practices that aren’t going to change overnight. The result is a single company with many data centers that share little in common in terms of how they’re operated.
This is by no means a knock on any enterprise or colocation provider. Rather, it’s about recognizing the challenges they face in running a data center, because they are many.
If you were to consider running a data center to be a core competency, it goes way beyond having IT expertise. It would mean you’d have expertise in electrical, plumbing, HVAC, project management, scheduling, and identifying the dependencies between interconnected systems.
A lack of a formal but continuously evolving data center maintenance and operations program with standardized, well-documented processes and procedures adds to the challenge. Without such a program risk of downtime from human error is heightened, emergency response is slowed, vendors can’t be held accountable and data center personnel won’t benefit from shared knowledge.
That’s just for starters. Here are some additional competencies required to operate your data center effectively:
- Vendor management – This includes identifying the most qualified equipment vendors, contractors, and service providers, and negotiating contracts for the best service at the best price. In addition, it means finding the time and an effective process for managing multiple vendors with varying service contracts to ensure you get what you paid for and your infrastructure gets the service it needs.
- Risk management – While component providers may be focused on servicing their own equipment, data center operators often lack the necessary policies, procedures and personnel to manage the data center as a whole, interconnected system and to ensure all work is done safely. That increases the risk of personnel injury, liability and data center downtime.
- Asset management – Asset tracking and reporting systems must be in place, so that you can identify any stranded capacity and improve utilization.
- Budgeting – Most data center operators are facing top-down pressure to show continuous improvement in operational costs, in terms of everything from managing planned and unplanned downtime to staff salaries and routine data center maintenance expense.
If these challenges sound at all familiar, know you’re not alone – every data center owner/operator has them. You don’t have to face them alone, however. Many companies, including large ones, out-task data center operations to third parties that do, indeed, count it as a core competency. In many cases, the service provider can operate your data center for you at less cost than you’re paying now and with better results.
To learn more about what it takes to run a data center effectively, download the free Schneider Electric e-book, “12 Essential Elements of Data Center Operations.”