Data Center Operations, Baseball and Horse Racing

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By David Gentry

Don’t know if you have had an opportunity to read George Allen’s new book, “What Washington Can Learn from the World of Sports,” but it’s worth the
investment to gain some of Senator Allen’s wisdom. I would also argue that the business world could learn a lot from the World of Sports….which reminds me of a great sports analogy and thus the title of this blog – more on that later.


Have you ever really thought about just how thin the line is between success and failure in data center operations? Many years of flawless performance can be forever marred by an outage of infinitesimal length (milliseconds). What actually separates success from failure?

  • Is it money?  Only if it is spent judiciously and in the correct areas.
  • Is it personnel?  Only if they are experienced specifically in data center operations, trained continuously, managed to the highest standards and are properly motivated for success.
  • Is it the original design? Only if it “begins with the end in mind,” addresses not only the normal codes and standards but requirements for long term maintenance, and is not overly complicated to understand and operate.
  • Is it the change management process? Only if it is consistently updated to mirror best practice standards and dynamic site conditions.
  • Is it the documentation? Only if it is accurate, up-to-date, easy to understand, easy to follow, and readily accessible.
  • Is it the emergency procedures? Only if they have been drilled into the heads of each and every staff member so that when time is of the essence, they don’t falter.
  • Is it the quality control process? Only if it is real time, supported by subject matter experts, driven by continuous improvement and available 24x7x365.

There are a number of other things to consider (safety, spares allocation, vendor management, etc.) but I think you get my point…which brings me to my sports analogy. Ask yourself, “What is the difference between a .300 and a .200 hitter in baseball?” A .300 hitter gets 3 hits for every 10 times at bat and a .200 hitter gets 2 hits for every 10 times at bat. Not a lot of difference….that is until you think about the careers, or lack thereof, between the .300 hitter and the .200 hitter. A .300 hitter in Major League Baseball is an all-star with a multimillion dollar contract. A .200 hitter, if he even makes the team, won’t play much or make a lot of money!


Here’s another thought to ponder. It is not uncommon for a horse race to be won by “a nose” or even by a photo finish. The first place horse wins $100,000 and the second place horse wins $25,000. Did the first place horse run the race 4 times as fast as the second place horse? No. Did the first place horse run 4 laps around the track compared to one lap for the second place horse? No. Yet the owner of the first place horse received 4 times the money as the second place owner.


My point? Both .200 and .300 baseball players have probably played baseball all their lives, spent countless hours in the gym and the batting cage, sacrificed their social lives and lived for the day they would make a major league baseball team. Both horses were probably raised on a beautiful farm where they received special attention, the best training, a wonderful diet and were ridden by experienced and successful jockeys. So what was it that separated the winners from the losers? It may appear on the surface that each one was doing the right things, but were they doing all the right things? Were the things they were doing the best use of their time and resources?

A well developed data center operations program that covers almost all the bases will eventually fail. You may operate for several years without any serious problems but you will eventually fail. The only way to minimize failure is to consistently strive to uncover those areas not being addressed and correct them as quickly as possible. Without this “Slight Edge Philosophy” you will never achieve (4) or (5) nines of uptime. Without paying attention to every
facet of data center design and operation you will be like the .200 hitter and, possibly be in the game (if you
are good with the glove), but probably not earn enough salary to continue a career in baseball, or a career in data center operations.

Why not be like the first place horse and “nose” out the likelihood of failure? How, you ask?

If you plan on looking outside your organization for help, I recommend the following – fully aware that I may sound self-serving. However, I truly believe the same principles apply regardless of who you ask for help.

First, if you bring in outside help, make sure they specialize in data center operations only (as opposed to building management or facility operations in general). I like the old Kentucky Fried Chicken line, “We do chicken right” – a play on the old saying “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
“We do chicken right”

Secondly, make sure that all facets of your facility operations are in sync (aka. holistic), from design to testing to operations to monitoring and expansion. If your vendor can provide every aspect of data center design and operations including engineering, construction, commissioning, maintenance and monitoring they will “begin with the end in mind,” involving all parties in every phase of the data center lifecycle.

Lastly, work with companies that are interested in your long term viability and will come along side of you as a trusted partner. Companies that pride themselves in client retention and satisfaction will develop metrics such as key performance indicators (KPI) to judge actual performance based on objective facts.

If you are uncertain what areas of your program need attention, get an operational assessment that will identify any deficiencies and provide you with a roadmap and cost estimate for getting you where you need to be.

Don’t let one hit in 10 at bats or coming up short by a nose keep you from meeting your bottom line objectives. Focus on being the very best you can be and take your data center operations to the next level.