Rescue your IT staff from data center management purgatory

Management tactics and tools can enhance day-to-day operations

Optimizing a data center is not only about virtualizing servers and storage and reducing power and real estate costs.An organization should achieve higher utilization of all its resources, including its people. A goal of any government agency considering data center optimization should also be to employ fewer people doing more data center work with highly utilized systems. In short, a focus on the people part of data center optimization represents the positive side of doing more with less: better utilized people, better utilized servers and higher utilization of storage capacity.

In practice, data center optimization rarely results in a long-term reduction in IT resources because the organization’s demand for IT services keeps growing. Agencies are doing more, whether it is providing access to more information, processing more and different types of services, or running new types of systems. The goal of the optimized data center is to deliver the required IT capabilities in the most efficient manner by getting maximum utilization from IT resources, both systems and people.

One key to data center optimization is management automation, notes Judith Hurwitz, president of IT consulting firm Hurwitz and Associates, based in Needham, Mass. “Automation lets you improve efficiency and quality,” she says. Data centers in general have grown too large and complex to effectively manage — never mind optimize — without automation.

Specifically, automation takes over the routine, mundane tasks that IT staff members need to do, such as configuring resources, backing up data or patching servers. The efficiency comes from letting systems handle low-value tasks that people otherwise would do manually. Automation also improves quality by eliminating the errors that typically occur when people handle repetitive tasks manually.

Data center optimization also implies a level of process redesign, in which you redesign work processes for the optimized and automated data center. Previously, each server administrator might have handled a certain number of servers before optimization. But after optimization, each administrator would be able to handle four, five or even 10 times the number of servers, according to industry observers. 

The same kind of quantum leap also occurs in storage. Before virtualization, each storage administrator previously could have handled gigabytes of storage. But with greater efficiency and automation, he or she would be able to handle terabytes of storage.

“Clearly, the more automated you can make the data center, the more efficient it can become while it reduces risk,” says David Kelly, president of IT consulting firm Upside Research, based in Newton, Mass. Management automation adds the critical component.

For agencies, risk comes in many forms. IT staff shortages remain a serious concern, despite the weak economy. Roughly half of the federal government IT officials who responded to the November 2011 Data Center Optimization survey by the 1105 Government Information Group are very concerned about the IT staff resources dedicated to maintaining and supporting data centers. For more information about the demographic characteristics of the survey population, please read the "Data Center Optimization Survey Methodology" section in another article in this series, "How to relieve the pressure of data center consolidation."


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However, the large and growing number of government mandates that relate to data center operations is another form of risk. About half of the survey respondents indicated that the most important government mandates include protection of government information and prevention of IT outages. Other mandates drawing slightly fewer responses comes from the E-Government Act of 2002, security standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Federal Information Processing Standards, Energy Star and Executive Order 13514, titled "Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance.

An equally troubling risk is the myriad federal mandates that often hamper efforts by agency IT decision-makers to move forward with new or innovative data center solutions. More than four in 10 of the survey respondents complained that acquisition regulations make it difficult to obtain innovative technology to improve data center operations.

These and other risks make it imperative for government agencies to include people in their data center optimization program.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors arenot guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please email us at [email protected].