Data Center Operations Change Management

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It’s interesting to me just how many data center facility engineering teams operate without a formal change management process.  Usually, you can’t even perform a change on a single server in the data center without going through a rigorous change control process, but FE teams routinely operate and maintain the electrical and HVAC equipment that keeps every server in the building running without a similar method of control.

I’m not talking about having a change management system that provides notification to end users about a maintenance activity taking place. That’s an important function, of course, but what’s typically missing is a change control process that deals with the actual performance of an installation or maintenance activity. Since this is where the human errors occur and the potential for service disruption is high, it would make sense that a methodology be employed that is at least as rigorous as the one the IT teams use.

The problem of course is that most FE teams are not wired for this type of activity. In normal buildings, the stakes are much lower and the extra time and effort it takes to implement change management processes are not as clearly justified. Facility management organizations and the individuals that they employ are typically used to working in non-critical environments, and they bring the same tools and techniques to the table when working on the data center facility infrastructure. Therefore, it’s not always second nature to ask why you need to design a process for the worst case scenario when 99.9 times
out of 100 you can get by just fine with a more simplified approach.  Unfortunately, three ‘nines’ of availability just doesn’t make the grade for most data center managers.

What does a real and effective facility change management program look like? The use of a Method of Procedure (MOP) or a similar work control document for all work on or around the critical infrastructure equipment is one indicator. Having a documented process for MOP usage and work performance is even better. Rules for vendor management and supervision, a comprehensive training program, formal Quality Control processes and a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) are other positive signs.

The days are gone when the IT and FE groups could operate on different planes when it comes to change management. The data center is a single entity that can only perform as expected when everyone in the environment operates to the same standard of quality and reliability. It’s time for all Facility Engineering groups to drink the Kool-Aid and adopt effective change control practices.  However, they may have to be dragged to the table by the folks in the organization that already understand the concepts.

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