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BYOD is Not the Enemy: Using Consumer Tech to Manage the Data Center

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LAS VEGAS - BYOD is not the enemy. Instead, the Bring Your Own Device movement of adopting consumer technology can be of great benefit for an It organization, according to Joseph Furmanski, Associate Director Data Center Facilities and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

In a presentation Tuesday at the AFCOM Data Center Word Spring 2013 conference, Furmanski outlined how consumer tech such as iPhones and tablets were embraced at UPMC and have become valuable tools for the huge health care provider. Workers bringing their own devices to the workplace are inevitable, he noted, so why not embrace it?

For UPMC, consumer tech offered a way to do more with less manpower. “There’s 3 people, we stretch them a lot and want to minimize that,” said Furmanski.

Furmanski believes adopting consumer tech is important in addressing long-term staffing challenges facing the data center industry. Many in the data center field are no longer spring chickens, and the industry will need younger workers who are accustomed to using iPhones and tablets rather than Blackberries and PCs.

Attracting A New Generation of Staffers

“We have to train a new generation and get them excited, and the key is using the tools they use,” said Furmanski, who said his thinking was influenced by discussions at AFCOM and other industry groups on attracting and retaining Millenials. “The people we’re hiring now grew up with this stuff.”

UPMC operates more than 20 hospitals, with 3,200 physicians and more than 55,000 employees at400 clinical locations, which include hospitals as well as long-term care and senior living facilities. UPMC also operate s a health plan with nearly 1.8-million members.

With the objective of improving data center management and IOC support, the company began looking at consumer tech, with the stipulations that it would be low or no cost, and must be used in a way that required little to no custom programming. The effort initially focused on the most popular applications: Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote, and QR code to perform various functions and communications.

Quick Deliverables, Quick Wins

“We had to convince management that we weren’t doing it just to have fun,” said Furmanski. The initial stages were about quick deliverables and quick wins.

The UPMC’s main data center is in Forbes Tower, a 10,750 square foot facility with limited staff. The hardware is leased on 3-4 year cycles, and they’re heavily virtualized with over 5,000 virtual machines in use. It’s not a large data center, and they are constantly looking at how they can improve efficiencies. This is where consumer tech came into play.

The first phase of the plan cost under $2,000 in equipment. The staff would use QR codes and code scanners for things like the FM 200 manual, making it easier to access documentation. The staff took video for information purposes, and used Skype to call subject matter experts to solve problems.

UPMC was able to more effectively use limited staff, save on paper and organize documentation through use of consumer tech.  As time passed, using tablets improved quality and processes and saved the company a lot of paper.

It wasn’t all smooth. “Integration was the beast that stopped the project,” said Furmanski. Security integration was a particular pain point with devices like iPads and iPhones. “There were a lot of good vertical applications, but we hated logging in over and over,” he said. “There was little to no integration. We talked to a lot of vendors about this.”

The Surface to the Rescue?

The company then looks to Microsoft’s Surface tablet, and believes the new Surface Pro will make many of those headaches go away. “Security and content worked really well with it,” said Furmanski. “We found we can run any web or windows based app.” Working with these devices are now a DCIM requirement.

The company uses these devices to access data on the overall health of the data center. The wealth of applications emerging from app stores for consumer devices is proving useful to UPMC. Staff can view real-time PUE and the environmental control system, all from a tablet. Furmanski says Sharepoint is a key knowledge repository, and Windows 8 and Active directory passes context through, so the silos between apps are breaking down.

The bottom line for UPMC is that a small staff, with limited investment in consumer tech devices, was able to do more and virtually eliminate the heavy paper usage that plagued the company, Furmanski said. Information is at their fingertips, a limited staff can do more and can access documentation quickly and easily. UPMC will continue to look into how consumer tech can improve its everyday operations.

By implementing proper usage of BYOD and consumer tech, the data center can greatly improve processes and drive valuable insight, even with limited manpower. There are a wealth of applications from data center management providers coming out every day that increase the value of these devices, so it’s worth looking into the consumerization of data center management.

About the Author

Jason Verge is an Editor/Industry Analyst on the Data Center Knowledge team with a strong background in the data center and Web hosting industries. In the past he’s covered all things Internet Infrastructure, including cloud (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS), mass market hosting, managed hosting, enterprise IT spending trends and M&A. He writes about a range of topics at DCK, with an emphasis on cloud hosting.

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