The 5 People You Meet in the Data Center

Meeting these five people will not make you feel better about your misspent youth or explain your mission in life, but it could provide valuable insight into your data center, its services and the staff who support it. Whether you're a system administrator who needs physical access to a data center or a business owner who uses data center computing power, you should meet the people who support and maintain your data center. These five people are responsible for the daily security, maintenance, protection, cleanliness and management of your data center. Take time out of your schedule to meet them in theory today and soon in person when you visit the facility. You will not regret the choice to do so.

Whether you're a sys admin who needs physical access to a server in the data center or a business owner moving your data center to the cloud, it is important to meet the people who support and maintain your data center.

The people who support the data center are ready to serve you, your business and your customers. They're focused on delivery and maintaining a solid service. However, don't assume they are your personal servants; they aren't. They serve everyone's interests equally. It's important to meet them so both you and they can put a face to the business and the service; otherwise, your business is that set of 15 servers in Rack 14 at Location S52, and they are data center drones with no personalities who love to reboot your systems.

1. Data Center Security Personnel

The first person you meet in the data center is the man or woman in blue: Security. Security personnel grant you initial access to the data center with a visitor's badge or an escort. For those not visiting the data center in "one off" fashion, security personnel also set up your eye scans and badge access, and maintain physical protection for the facility. The people in blue also watch the security cameras and keep a vigilant eye on hallways, access points, streets and Headline News (CNN) for terror and threat updates. Security personnel are your data center's best human investment.

For those who work in a data center, security personnel provide you with peace of mind that you work in a protected and safe environment. Restricted access to the grounds and to the buildings for reasons that aren't random ensure no unauthorized individuals or groups will gain physical proximity to your assets. Deliveries, including daily mail, are restricted, as is all access to the data center. Security protocol grants no person or entity unrestricted access.

2. The Data Center Manager

The data center manager is the "captain" of the computing vessel in which you now stand. He has responsibility for all data center operations, its personnel, security, power and maintenance. In short, the buck stops with the manager. This single point of responsibility also makes the position of data center manager one that is highly stressful, physically demanding, mentally challenging and often thankless. The manager must be familiar with all aspects of the data center and its personnel. If there's one person you must meet on your journey, it's him.

The data center manager is a uniquely skilled person who, as it turns out, is part of a dying breed. Data centers are becoming more complex with the trend toward "green" computing, virtualization, power restrictions and space limitations. In addition, the number of qualified management candidates has shrunk dangerously low. According to the association for data center professionals AFCOM, by 2015, the talent pool of qualified senior-level technical and management-level data center professionals will shrink by 45 percent.

3. Facilities Maintenance Personnel

When speaking of data centers, power, cooling and capacity often arise as topics of conversation or bullet points on PowerPoint presentations. Knowing the person responsible for those bullet points is far more valuable than the bullet points themselves. The facilities manager is the "go to guy" for these important issues. It's his business to maintain an in-depth view of power, cooling and capacity for the data center. Meet him. Explain your needs. Find out what the long-range plans are for your data center. Ask him the tough questions, and listen to his answers because your business depends on him.

Here is a short list of tough questions to ask the facilities manager during your face-to-face meeting.

  • What tier is the business service you currently deliver to customers?
  • How do you work with IT to predict capacity requirements?
  • Are there plans to expand this facility?
  • What is the upper limit on power and space for this facility?
  • How will these limitations affect our business going forward?
  • How often do you update your technology, and when was the last refresh?
  • What happens when you run out of capacity at this location?

4. Housekeeping Personnel

How often do housekeeping personnel take the blame for damaging a piece of equipment, accidentally powering down a server or worse? It happens more often than anyone wants to admit. And, "it" refers to blame -- not actual equipment damage. You should meet with the housekeeping manager to find out the details of housekeeping-caused incidents in the past 12 months. There's no need to further play the blame game here; your only goal is to put your mind at ease and discuss your concerns with the housekeeping manager.

It's a tough job to keep the thousands of square feet of floor space clean and free of debris at times when the least amount of traffic flows in and out of the raised floor areas. Inform housekeeping services of any special needs you may have, and familiarize yourself with any housekeeping rules for your employees as well. For example, empty boxes left in aisles might go ignored by housekeeping unless marked "TRASH" in large letters.

5. Site Support Personnel

The last person on your list of "must meets" is the site support team leader or manager. Her team is generally the first physical responders to problems in the data center, such as hung or powered-off systems and unplugged equipment. Their eyes are the first to see your equipment, and they're the most familiar with its location and status. Site support team members are tasked with unpacking, racking, installing and maintaining computer equipment.

Discuss your special needs with the site support team manager. Keep his number on speed dial. Some teams publish their on-call rotation schedules to the web so techs can be contacted directly. Find out about important items such as response times, ticket systems and escalation procedures. The site support manager and his team are your best friends.

From data center management to sweeping the raised floor areas, data center staff keep the computing power coming to you and your customers. Take the opportunity to meet them, learn their names and reward them for a job well done. Remember though, these five people don't work in heaven, and there's a huge difference between being ready to serve you and being your servant.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which was published in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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This article was originally published on Dec 16, 2010
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