FM and IT: The Yin And Yang Of The Data Centre

Facilities management looks after the data centre building and IT looks after the equipment – Eddie Desouza asks who manages the power?

In Chinese philosophy, the concept of Yin and Yang is used to describe opposite forces which are interconnected to create balance in the world. Life is full of these natural balances; dark and light, water and fire, life and death.

Although less abstract, the operations within a data centre must also work to this idea of equilibrium. With increasing pressure from rising energy costs, the industry is currently facing a crisis. As stakeholders with interests in two ends of the spectrum, power supply and power demand, the two influential parties, facilities management and IT are on divergent paths.

Balancing requirements  yin yang green balance © Eyalos Shutterstock

There is no question that both facilities management and IT play a huge role in the successful running of a data centre. After all, facilities management personnel manage the supply of power into the building while IT personnel manage power distribution to and within the rack. If the two aren’t working in harmony, energy and power will be wasted and the data centre becomes significantly unprofitable.

So why is it such a challenge to work together? Surely it is clear to see that a bridge should be built to unite the two parties to improve the operations of the data centre for the better? What can we do to turn this estranged partnership into a marriage, creating a better environment to work in and for all to benefit from? To help broker the marriage and achieve cost efficiency and productivity, a common goal and language is needed for all.

However, there seems to be a disconnect in outlook resulting in a lack of communication and some cases of complete absence of co-operation. With two very different industry stakeholders working in such close proximity, it can become unclear who is responsible for what, resulting in a lack of productive decision making. Of course, this is by no means the fault of one department and in this case, it is not a workman blaming his tools, but one who wants to create an efficient environment.

This imbalance can have financial consequences. In daily life, more often than not, we often overlook expenses if we are not the ones paying the bill. This is the current state inside a data centre but the circumstances are more severe. Housing the world’s information, the costs of a data centre are much more substantial than those of a home, causing a global energy and financial predicament. Although the electricity bill in a data centre is being generated largely by the IT team, the overall bill can come out of the facilities management budget.

This means that FM has to foot the bill for a service IT predominantly use, while IT feels it can use as much power as it wants, since the bill is not theirs to pay.

Who pays the bills?

A recent survey of data centre professionals[i] showed that there is no clear ownership as to who is responsible for the energy bill. Although nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents believed that responsibility lies with both FM and IT, less that a quarter (24 per cent) believed it lies only with IT and nearly a third (28 per cent) believed it lies solely with FM. Without accountability there can be no responsibility and with data centres using approximately 30 billion watts of electricity worldwide, the equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, this is not acceptable. Especially as 90 per cent or more of this electric is wasted in fear of downtime[ii].

To address this, communication lines between FM and IT need to be opened and more education needs to be available about the bigger picture of the data centre, not just a focus on one area. Only then can the two sides integrate and understand how they affect each other and what can be done to improve this. A new age of transparency, led by the injection of new technologies, can then flourish, where any culture of blame and misplaced responsibility amongst FM and IT can be eradicated.

In the real world, when the fuel prices continue to increase, do we change the way we drive our car or do we just budget for the extra expense? A data centre cannot afford to take on this perspective and blindly accept mounting energy bills, especially as increasing energy budgets removes cash from other parts of the business. Energy is a scarce resource and its inefficient utilisation will leave the next generation with even more problems.

For a data centre business, at least two things are constant. The business will always need to consume vast amounts of energy and you will never be able to control the cost of this energy. This is dictated by world markets, taxes, global wars and government agendas. Prices will most likely continue to rise.

Get proactive!

Therefore, the power supply and distribution across the data centre can no longer afford to be a passive process. The current approach is creating a silo and both sides of the spectrum need clear guidelines on what they can and cannot do.

The answer lies in managing risk together. To do this requires a common language: only then can an informed decision be made to achieve optimum business efficiency and effectiveness.

Today, the language and equipment in a data centre are understood by either facilities management or IT but rarely both. The demand for a common language is greater than ever and both sides will be able to communicate concerns, issues and ideas for greater efficiency.

FM and IT need to unite to understand the problems and solve them in the most productive way, making substantial cost savings and creating an efficient data centre. However, this can only be achieved when both departments are given the right tools.

So this leaves us with the all-important question, will FM or IT make the first move towards a more efficient data centre environment or will all this speculation be in vain?

Eddie Desouza, Global Marketing & Communications Director, Enlogic

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