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The Right Questions to Ask About Data Center Strategy

Data center customers often don’t ask some of the most important questions. Here's what they are.

Long before the explosion of data, long before The Oxford Dictionary recognized “cybersecurity” as a word; and long before every device known to man could connect to the Internet, most businesses simply built their own data centers.

Today, creating and planning a data center strategy has become incredibly complicated. Companies now have a whole slew of choices: modernize an old facility, build a new one, lease, use colocation and/or cloud services and any number of combinations. Knowing which option will best fit the needs of the business starts with asking the right questions.

Tim Kittila, director of data center strategies for Parallel Technologies, says when he first meets with customers he asks the following questions about their business goals and objectives (not data center goals) and IT growth projections.

Kittila is scheduled to speak about data center strategy at the Data Center World Local conference at the Art Institute of Chicago in July. More about the event here.

How does the organization provide value or produce products? What makes their business continue to be relevant to their customers, and what reliability level is required by the organization to meet those business goals and objectives?

Based upon the company's anticipated growth, what impact will that have on its assets depending on a selected data center strategy?  When asking this question, Kittila says he gets varying responses; some have forecasts and projections, others have scantily clad inventories that are out of date.

Data center customers often don’t ask some of the most important questions. “Everyone gets focused on the immediate day-to-day priorities and forgets to slow down and analyze the full scenario and plan out a strategy,” he says.

“Operations seems to play second fiddle to the overall strategy of the data center.  Even if a customer decided to move to a colo or cloud, understanding how to manage various ‘data center assets’ should be key to any organization.  If managing an on-premise data center, operations will present the biggest risk to potential failure.  If moving to a colo, understanding how to streamline moves, adds, and changes due to a facility being remote, can be challenging.  For cloud practices, how do you eliminate the risk of shadow IT and those dreaded ‘expense report’ cloud purchases?”

Shadow IT refers to technology projects that are managed outside of, and without the knowledge of, the IT department. Kittila says this practice often results in processes and procedures that can prevent IT from being flexible and scalable enough to complete work and meet organizational objectives.

“We’ve seen examples of this via IT spinning up cloud services in order to accomplish company initiatives, he says. “This is not only reckless, but could put the company/organization at great risks.  Bypassing processes in order to meet initiatives should be your first red flag.  At that point, the process should be reviewed; then figure out a way not to force IT into a knee-jerk strategy.”

Another important step in determining a data center strategy is to measure and calculate the business and financial risks associated with an outage and translate those potential losses into costs.

“Understanding the impact to business operations due to a data center failure allows companies to make data-driven decisions to help eliminate potential downtime and reduce overall risk to the organization,” Kittila says.

While having hard-and-fast rules that apply to individual data center strategies would be convenient, it’s not realistic.

“Which option to choose always depends on business goals and objectives, and the IT requirements of the organization.  We’ve experienced that it made sense to collocate when an organization’s CapEx dollars were better spent on building clinics vs. building data centers.  In that case, the client moved its disaster recovery facilities into a colo.  In other cases, if customers needed flexibility in a test/dev environment, we found that the cloud met their needs. Other times, we’ve had organizations choose to stay in their facilities due to the economics of an already depreciated asset that met their needs for reliability.”

Finally, having budget constraints shouldn’t deter a company from at least taking the first step.

“If money is an issue, then start with a plan.  If your business is growing, and a plan is in place, then the budget for it will come in time,” he says. “I would recommend people not make hasty decisions just to ‘get something in place.’  Unraveling tactical Band-Aids can cause real headaches in the future.”

Tim Kittila will present "Asking the Right Questions for Data Center Strategy and Planning" at Data Center World Local, Chicago, on July 12 from 1:00-1:50 p.m. Register here for the conference.

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