IT Skills No Longer Sufficient for Data Center Execs

Companies must find the right mix of IT, facilities and security expertise.

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

Traditionally, data center managers did focus on IT, said Jill Eckhaus, CEO of AFCOM, an Orange, Calif.-based professional association for data center managers.

Today, they do so much more, she said. With companies running out of data center space and encountering power and cooling issues, its extremely important for data center leaders to be educated in other areas, such as facilities.

Eckhaus said last week that AFCOM estimates that by 2015, the talent pool of qualified senior-level technical and management data center professionals will shrink by 45%.

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

Neal Smith, data center manager for core services at Intel Corp.s Oregon data center operations, said the results are not surprising.

The data center is where everything comes together networking, facilities, business units, security and storage, he said. 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 are often falling on the data center managers shoulders, Smith noted.

Senior management will not stand for finger-pointing between facilities and systems, said John Oyhagaray, vice president of programs at 7x24 Exchange International in New York, a knowledge exchange for those who design, build, use and maintain information infrastructures. There is no room for a segregation mind-set. In the data center, 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 added.

For example, Smith said that power concerns and the move toward eco-friendly computing makes some knowledge of electrical systems and heating, ventilation and air conditioning a must for data center workers.

The density of computing has gone up tremendously because of technologies like blade servers, Smith said. That has all sorts of implications on your overall data center power and cooling.

Smith noted that he has gained knowledge of facilities chores by working with experts during his 15 years on the job. Id buddy up with the facilities team; thats where I gained most of my knowledge, he said.

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

While I dont have to understand the details, I do have to understand the major components and know how to react if we have an issue, he said.

Doug Lauterbach, data center director at BayCare Health System in Clear­water, Fla., suggested that data center managers should also learn process management skills, which will become very important as companies turn to utility computing.

Lauterbach also believes that data center 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 data center, he noted. Im trying to lower the ceiling of power consumption.

Gittlen is a freelance writer near Boston.

Staffing Up

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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