Communication Between Facility Management And IT Increasingly Important In Data Center Operations
When a data center is being designed, it is increasingly important to have both facility management and IT involved in the process. Why? The simple answer is informed decision-making. With input from both groups, design decisions can be made with the combined interests of facility management and IT in mind.
What can go wrong when FM and IT don't work together? The biggest issue is misallocation of capital. The most common item is over-built mechanical and electrical infrastructure. Too much UPS, too many generators and excessive precision cooling is installed on Day 1. The company has overspent on MEP infrastructure that may not be needed for years. In addition, the oversized equipment operates very inefficiently.
What else can go wrong? Reliability expectations may not be achieved. The IT group may have critical applications that require a higher level of reliability than facility management plans to build. Oftentimes, one of the biggest issues is the need for concurrent operation of the data center and maintenance, or as the industry calls it, concurrent maintenance. Suppose a data center gets designed and built, and several years later, a routine infrared scan reveals that bolts need to be tightened in the switchgear, which requires a system-wide outage. The data center is not concurrently maintainable. However, it turns out that the IT group has critical applications that run 7x24 operations. Now what?
FM and IT need to agree on a set of performance objectives and success measures for their projects, which relate to the enterprise's overall mission, values and goals. To get there, they need to:
- Learn to communicate free of jargon, using easy-to-understand terms and descriptions.
- Develop a mutual appreciation of the challenges they face and how those challenges differ between each discipline.
- Explore and come to appreciate their interdependencies.
- Distill the performance objectives and success measures they develop and agree on into simple language that can be communicated to the "C-Suite" for buy-in.
Facility management and IT also need to jointly educate themselves about risk analysis, assessment and mitigation. This will give them the ability to explain to each other what can happen under various scenarios and develop efficient plans to solve problems as they arise. This includes:
- Going beyond the Uptime Institute Tier and other rating systems.
- Exploring failure rates, the effects of equipment failures on operations and recovery scenarios.
- Emphasizing what results have to be achieved prior to applying possible solutions.
- Considering different ways to address risks, such as operations and maintenance improvements as an alternate to infrastructure investments.
All of these considerations should be communicated to the on-site facility management and IT staff responsible for monitoring the facility during all shifts. The team must also take into account the capabilities of each staff member and decide what, when and how to identify what happened when an event occurs. The next step must include notification to both IT and facility management of an issue. Finally, the team should conduct a post event evaluation to determine the cause, and measures to prevent the same event from happening again.
Innovation in data center design and operation can be a challenge. Ten years ago, reliability was the top priority for data center design and operation. Now, the three top priorities are reliability, cost to build and cost to operate. Almost every project is now evaluated not just on the ability to support the mission from a reliability standpoint, but equally from a total cost of ownership (TCO) standpoint. Solutions have to be scalable to allow for critical power and cooling to be installed in increments to match the growth in IT build-out. This cannot happen without close coordination between facility management and IT.