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A perfect fit

It would seem obvious that for the effective functioning of an enterprise data centre it is imperative that both IT and facilities teams work together. 

As Rasheed Al Omari, sales consultant, technology services at HP Middle East points out there are multiple components that make up a data centre – there is the people aspect, the data, the applications, the network and the infrastructures.

“All of this is concentrated inside a data centre. And all of this is here in order to deliver a set of services to the business. If we take this service delivery approach, of delivering a business outcome to an enterprise, then there has to be co-ordination and partnership between IT and facilities team to deliver better services – both internally and externally to customers and partners,” he says.

According to Angus MacCormick, senior director for virtualisation in emerging markets for Cisco, IT can represent 25% of an organisation’s expenses and 80% of that is just for keeping the lights on, or running the business, people and staff costs.

“Only 20% is actually for innovation and new systems, whatever the size of the organisation. This is why we have to break down the silos across an enterprise and bring teams together to attain benefits,”

Partha  Parthasarathy, co-founder and CEO of testing and infrastructure management at MindTree agrees, “It is obvious that proper, efficient HVAC (cooling), stabilised power and security are very critical for data centre operations. There have been many cases when IT teams are not able to deploy the latest technology, more server or storage due to lack of power and cooling. This makes it imperative that IT and facilities work together in data centre operations.”

There are several advantages to advocate continuous co-operation between an organisation’s IT and facilities teams. Effective co-operation between them can prevent not only unnecessary downtime, but also improve infrastructure productivity and business efficiency to a great degree. Despite these benefits, this integrated scenario is not a familiar working norm in most regional enterprises. 

“The utopia is that the IT and facilities teams are merged. That would be the great thing and I think everybody agrees that that would be the ideal scenario. However, in the region, this does not happen much at all. If I had to put a figure on it, around 2 out of ten times that happens in the Middle East -maybe even less. It does differ sector by sector, so local banks are doing it more than say local retail, but the numbers are still pretty low,” says Darren Thayre, head of the Middle East for CS Technology, a consulting firm. 

Start and end

Thayre, like most other experts, believe that the best place to begin with an integrated team is right at the start – during the initial planning phase of a building or a data centre. When an enterprise begins construction on a data centre, it can create a unique mixed team which is given the responsibility of running the data centre. This team can be formed by drawing from both the IT and facilities groups in an enterprise, and can be supported by adequately strong policies and procedures. 

That does not mean that an organisation with an existing data centre, but no integrated team, has to give up. IT and facilities teams can be brought together even when there is an existing formula for interaction between them in an enterprise data centre, albeit with a little more difficulty.

The organisation needs to adopt a phased approach in order to bring the teams together in as smooth a fashion as possible. And, according to Thayre, this begins with the teams understanding each other’s roles and duties better. 

“In a typical enterprise, IT and facilities report to different people and they have different directives within the business. These are very different guys. When we work with clients, we tend to conduct workshops and outdoor get-togethers to bring the two disparate groups together. These activities help to break the ice, and help them get started in understanding each other’s roles in the organisation better,” says Thayre. 

“Each individual within an enterprise, needs to understand his or her role in the organisation. This awareness is the beginning. You have to get people to understand and this needs proper communication – put people together, start engaging them, start having dialogues and explain why they need to work together. This is education,” says Al Omari.

Thayre adds that each group considers itself to be much more critical to the enterprise than the other, and he says this mindset has to be changed through continuous communication and sharing of notes across months. In order to speed this exchange of ideas and improve the functional efficiency of the data centre there needs to be a single owner of the data centre. 

“Single ownership will ensure accountability and remove ad-hoc operations by various IT team members (network / server / storage) and the facilities team. The owner (or data centre manager) approves all changes and other related activities inside the data centre after validating the relative impact on the business,” says Parthasarathy.

Most experts agree that this single owner ideally needs to be selected from within the IT team, since most of the front-component of the data centre’s environment remains technology elements. However, he will have a team comprising of both facilities and IT members reporting to him and taking orders from him. 

This single point of contact for the data centre will need to ensure not only that facilities and IT performs as integral elements of the data centre ecosystem, but will also have to work out processes and procedures, and find ways to enforce them properly. 

“It is good to have the overall responsibility left with one person or team as, from the guidelines on overall performance, relevant service level agreements (SLAs) between the different departments can be derived,” says Aziz Ala’ali, regional director for Middle East and Africa at Extreme Networks.

“This is a business mandate. If we need the right control in conducting business, then the data centre manager should have clearly defined SLAs with the various business units. This will help the data centre manager deliver as per pre-set terms when it comes to support and application delivery, as well as help him in getting the required service from internal suppliers, like the facilities team,” says HP’s Al Omari.

He continues, “Moreover, before we start dealing with the service lifecycle within an enterprise there are some points that need to be sorted out from a process viewpoint. Inputs need to be collected and shared appropriately with the team such that everybody knows the specifications of the services, the mission-critical aspects of the same, and be aware in advance of new services that will be introduced. This process component will give them the visibility of what needs to be done in terms of strategy, in planning and provisioning of services.”

Knocking down walls

Currently there are several technologies and solutions in the market that make the management and monitoring job of an integrated data centre team much easier. Combined with such tools the team can tackle most issues that rise out of the running of an enterprise data centre. 

Parthasarathy points out, “If the ownership of a data centre is properly defined, and the proper change and incident response system has been established, the likelihood of any challenges inside the data centre become very less.”

The real challenge in managing the data centre might often only lie with bringing a mixed team together. 

Thayre says that the biggest problem with integration involves the mindsets that IT and facilities bring to play, with many worried that a consolidated team will involve job losses. For this, Thayre advocates starting off with a huge team, building individual skill levels within the group and cutting back on excess manpower at a later date. 

“Another big problem is that IT and facilities often do not even sit in physical proximity. Both departments will be situated in different corners of the building. They like to hide away from each other and do not really like to go to meetings together. This needs to change and an organisation has to advocate communication as a continuous process and stick to it,” states Thayre. 

Al Omari agrees, “The classic challenge is related to change management. The facilities guys come from an engineering background, and they have their own ways of dealing with things, apart from having other aspects of the building to deal with besides the data centre. IT has its own ways. Bringing them together and the change management it involves is a major challenge. The organisation needs to find a middle way or a synergy between them and ensure that they both get educated on the importance of each other.”

He continues, “Organisations also need to have some kind of executive sponsor, outside both IT and facilities, from a business level to make sure that these teams do talk to each other and work together in a professional manner.”

Final say

Organisations that have never tried their hand at integrating IT and facilities teams often start off the process by hiring an external consultant. While a consultancy can often provide the required guidance, procedures, best practices and common sense knowledge that is necessary to get the ball rolling, enterprises would be better off to assess the skills level present in their internal teams before bringing the consultant on board.

And then, even with a consultant the potential for making mistakes remain high when bringing the teams together. However, when an organisation sets its mind to it and puts in place the right measures to speed the process, integration can prove easier than expected as well. 

“The integration of IT and facilities teams within an enterprise is not a challenge as long as both the groups  understand well each other’s requirements and the importance of the 24/7 availability of IT systems to a business,” says Parthasarathy. 

HP’s Al Omari adds, “Data centres don’t exist because we are technology geeks. They exist to deliver services and the facility and IT teams are parts of the whole – layers in the actual delivery process. If we get all of them together we deliver a service. If everybody is aware of the ecosystem of delivering a service then they will come to an understanding of why they need to work together, why there needs to be synergies, and why they need to have back-to-back SLAs and agreements for providing better services.”

 Nevertheless, experienced hands like Thayre believe that there is still a long way to go for Middle East enterprises to reach the level of comprehensive amalgamation between IT and facilities within the data centre and to draw the relative benefits of such an integration.

Tips to getting IT and facilities together

  1. Start a dialogue: Get them talking to each other and keep the conversation flowing.
  2. Provide them guidance: an external arm – either a business sponsor or a consultant – should be present to help them through the process.
  3. Pick an owner: decide on a single point of contact for the data centre. This person is ultimately responsible for the effective functioning of the server room.
  4. Ensure division of tasks: set down who is going to do what within a data centre team. Ideally, everyday functioning will be handled by IT, while moves-adds-changes (MACs) will be done by the facilities side of the team.
  5. Set down an escalation process: as part of your disaster recovery plan ensure that everybody knows how the team will co-ordinate among itself and deal with issues.
  6. Get them into one room: since the data centre team will draw from both IT and facilities, ensure that both teams are sitting in relative physical proximity within the organisation. 
  7. Be flexible and think of the future: look beyond the here-and-now, and train your data centre team to work project-wise as well as business ends wise to fool proof your data centre.
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