ServersFacilities Management Crosses Chasm to the Data Center

Facilities Management Crosses Chasm to the Data Center

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It wasn’t so long ago that the facilities management (FM) team stalked the corridors of office buildings with greasy blue coats and large bunches of keys. That image is now as out of date as carbon paper and typing pools: Today’s facilities manager is more likely to be found in a white short-sleeved shirt behind a 21-inch flat-screen monitor looking at CAD drawings and updating an asset database in a high-tech basement lair.

Like so much that is IT related, the lines between facilities management and data center administration are blurring. Clear communication is critical, if both organizations are to achieve their goals.

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The role of the FM department has changed, too. If you are involved in planning and running a modern data center, it’s a good idea to get FM involved. Today’s FM departments have much to offer data centers and the administrators that manage them. Working with them helps facilitate a flexible data center that is green and energy-efficient. Together, they enable the data center to supply the desired IT services to the people who need them, at close to optimal cost.

First, let’s clear up some basics. The FM department does not dictate what technology is used in the data center. That’s an IT decision and nothing will change that. “Essentially, facility management is about power, cooling and fire protection, and also, where data centers are concerned, physical access controls,” said Kevin Janus, vice president of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) IT Council. “It is not involved in what servers you run, but it is concerned with the environment in which they will live.”

A facility manager can help with a number of environmental factors, purely because he has a complete overview of a building and its current and planned future uses — something IT staff probably lack. “Obviously you don’t want the IT department creating a data center when there are kitchens on the floor above because of the danger of leaks,” Janus points out.

But the real issues are power and air conditioning. Air conditioning is the number one consumer of power. Servers, as anyone who has worked in a data center can testify, generate a great deal of heat. The high density racks that are becoming increasingly common in today’s data centers consume vast amounts of power, and a similar amount of power is needed to dissipate this heat. That makes the planning and layout of the data center, and the provision of power and air conditioning equipment, crucial.

This falls clearly under the FM purview.

How can FM help? In an organization of any size, it’s likely that the facility managers will have a computer aided facility management (CAFM) package at their disposal. Among other things, a CAFM will usually store CAD floor plans of the building and a database of assets. For the data center, this will likely include plans showing the layouts of racks. In many cases, the database will hold the location of each server, the applications running on these servers, and information about the departments that “own” each application, where relevant.

Software tools can also carry out calculations to work out the amount of power that must be supplied in a given area of the data center, and the corresponding cooling capacity needed to remove the resulting heat. Information like this is clearly invaluable for the IT department because no matter what IT strategy is in place, the available power and cooling capacity presents constraints. The only way the IT department can be free to install and run the hardware it wants is if FM has already put in place the power and cooling it requires. And the only way for FM to know the IT requirements is for the two departments to communicate regularly.

“The IT strategy may call for increased use of virtualization two of three years down the line, but they won’t necessarily know what implication that has for the facility, especially in terms of A/C,” said Chris Keller, a past president of the IFMA’s IT Council. “But it’s also important to look at how the strategy will impact on people and the office layout elsewhere in the building. If the IT department wants to replace printer stations with inexpensive printers on every desk, then more power and A/C is going to be needed throughout the building or it won’t be possible.”

When a data center space is initially populated, the FM department can help design the layout of the racks to maximize the efficiency of the cooling systems. Detailing current thinking on hot and cool aisles and other energy efficient data center layout techniques is beyond the scope of this article. However, bear in mind that input from the FM department and the software tools at its disposal makes is possible to design a data center layout that will use significantly less energy and cost less to keep at an acceptable operating temperature than a badly laid out one.

What about making changes to existing data centers? “The contents of racks have to be managed, and if the A/C can’t handle it then racks or individual servers have to be moved,” said Keller. “Then the question is how do you know which servers you are moving and how do you keep track of where they are going? The FM department has, in a CAFM database, the place to store that information, and can offer it to the IT department. There’s no point in the IT department doing it all again when the information already exists. From the CEO’s point of view, redundancy is not the way to go,” he said.

The message from the basement then is very clear. By involving the FM team in the planning and layout of your data center, it can provide the tools and resources to ensure the data center will be practical to run, and as green and energy efficient, as possible. By keeping lines of communication open between the two organizations, the data center will be the flexible enough to accommodate the changes that you have planned, so you can deliver the services you want in the way you want, without worrying about where you are going to put the boxes, whether you are going to run out of power, or if the servers might melt when a new system is deployed.

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