Bridging the Gap Between IT and Facilities

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Mark Harris is Vice President of Product Management at Modius, which develops intelligent measurement systems for mission-critical facilities.

Mark HarrisMARK HARRIS
Modius

Over the past 25 years, Information Technology infrastructure has emerged as one of the enterprise’s most valuable and highly visible assets. IT touches nearly all aspects of a business, including the way products are developed, manufactured and delivered. Improved communication also enables innovation while strengthening corporate culture.

As such, it should be no surprise that IT infrastructure – commonly considered one of the top competitive corporate advantages – now consumes 2 to 5 percent of a typical company’s gross revenues. Despite this, the vast majority of companies worldwide today build IT infrastructure upon an assumption that essential supporting services (energy, space and cooling) will properly be there. This common yet dangerous assumption dramatically increases the risk of future service disruption and unnecessary maintenance costs.

So how did one of the most valuable corporate assets come to be built upon such a precarious foundation? The world of IT and the world of Facilities are very different, and arose from two very different sets of business needs. IT structures were developed to manage information flow, while facilities were part of a real-estate function.

This lineage created separate organizations with incompatible best-practices, and often inadequate cooperation. The gap between Facilities and IT today is very real and is usually recognized only when problems arise. In a minor example, a data center could lack the capacity for the hardware necessary to support a newly approved and funded business application. In a worst-case scenario, improper IT-Facilities coordination could result in catastrophic failure within the data center.

IT-Facilities Gap Equals Low Visibility
The IT organization spends a great deal of resources ensuring that the logical flow of information is continuously optimized and guaranteed within the constraints of the IT hardware itself. However, the IT-Facilities gap creates a situation in which the IT-operations teams have little – if any – visibility into the normal performance characteristics of the facilities on a day-to-day basis. When facilities fail to support the IT hardware, the gap manifests itself as an outage of production systems.

What can be done to fill this gap? A first step is to introduce an advanced monitoring/management platform that treats IT and Facilities as a single entity. The best of these monitoring systems can scale to collect performance metrics in real time, regardless of the number of devices or the distance between them. With these monitoring systems, a converged view emerges that includes everything from servers, switches and storage equipment to power-generation, distribution, cooling and environmental systems.

Each device’s metric data – including system status, availability, uptime, current load, power consumption and observed events – are a critical piece of the puzzle. Once collected, this telemetry data can be analyzed and used to make business and operation decisions.

Operational Efficiency Through ITIL
All monitoring systems – regardless of type – should be deployed using ITIL-inspired operational efficiency best practices, which define continuous improvement as the primary goal. Environmental monitoring systems can monitor hundreds of microclimates throughout the data center and lead to significant improvements in cooling efficiency by tightly and dynamically coordinating zone-level cooling resources with IT loads.

Active monitoring can also be used to enable the redistribution of power loads across multiple UPS devices (counter-intuitively, UPS devices operate most efficiency when heavily loaded). When processing load allows, powering down a portion of the UPS devices increases the overall power efficiency by reducing UPS conversion losses. Any system that improves power efficiency will increase overall electrical capacity, which can dedicated to new server build-outs and expansions otherwise not available.

In a recent Gartner report by Rakesh Kumar (April 2010, ID Number: G00175179) regarding a framework for data center energy efficiency planning, a recommendation was made that customers should measure Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of their data centers continuously. Rakesh suggests that the deployment of proactive energy monitoring systems will evolve as a standard business practice over the next three years.

In a manner similar to that of The Green Grid initiative and its DCPE KPI, the success of all IT departments will soon be measured using metrics like cost per transaction, where costs include facilities overhead.

In the end, there must be general agreement throughout the organization that responsibility for the company’s prized core asset is shared by IT and Facilities. Treating the combination of IT and Facilities as a single system – through the proactive use of advanced monitoring solutions – will provide greater visibility to operational status, directly improve service quality and minimize the risks for any given data center.

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3 Comments

  1. Interesting article, I am glad to say our IT organization has an excellent report with Facilities. We work closely together to ensure that we have enough street, UPS, and generator power to support the various SLAs we have with our users. As you’ve mentioned we have installed metering devices to ensure we are within reasonable operating limits. My impression is that many IT professionals are dealing with facility limitations: footprint, power and cooling consumption, etc. and these are contributing factors to the explosion of virtualization and cloud computing; it’s cheaper to leverage these solutions than to build out computing space.

  2. Rick Reeder

    I respectfully disagree with the author's basic premise that Facilities lacks a foundational method for controlling the environments within the data center and remaining portions of the building. I believe (based on more than 25 years in BOTH Facilities and IT environments) that what is most lacking between the two entities is a developed relationship based on mutual repsect of each other's needs rather than a hardware or process solution. I was controlling data center and facilities environments from my home laptop in the early 90's. I was enhancing indoor air quality by controlling CO2 levels in buildings and simultaneously using data center waste heat for building winter pre-heat air handlers in the 90's. My only point here is that control technologies have already matured in the Facilities world at a level in which the data center can be effectively controlled. The larger issue that is battled over is who gets control over the control system? I manage projects that are at the intersection of IT, Facilities, and Building Construction. From my experience, getting the stakeholders on the same functional needs and resource allocation page is far more necessary to seamless function than another control system layer with all the added complexity and vulnerability. Building teams rather than elevating silos is critical to success. Peace.

  3. Rick you are correct about the need for relationships in this arena. It is probably one of the biggest problems I see today. I am meeting today with a prospective client whose initial comment to me was "the facilities guys just don't get it" Rather than add fuel to the fire, one of the things that we try to do is educate everybody...IT and facilities...about what we are trying to accomplish in the data center environment....since we are an old line mechanical-electrical contracting company...we have pretty good rapport with facilities and since the Mission-Critical Infrastructure Program is focused on the needs of IT...they kind of like us too. Both groups are strained to the breaking point on a day to day basis and the tension surfaces on a regular basis. I really think that they both just need some help. The natural inclination of both of these groups is to say "We can do it ourselves" and sometimes this gets to be a big obstruction. Back to Mark's article, one of the things that I see is the lack of good information about what is going on in the data center. When a client says, "We would like to reduce our power consumption." My first question is " How much are you using now?" and I get answers like "Too much!" What Modius gives both IT and facilities is great comprehensive information about what is going on "under the hood" of your data center. Yes monitoring won't solve the IT-facilities gap issue, but products like Modius' will give them some concrete data to work with and that's the first step to everybody understanding what the common goal is and working together to accomplish it.