Learning and Communication In the Data Centre

Steve Weiner, senior manager at Cyxtera Technologies, looks at why we need to change our behaviour in order to meet new data centre challenges…

Data centre staff have grown accustomed to constant changes in our industry. From mainframe to the client-server model, from full rack units to blades and virtualisation, from ‘spinning disc’ storage to solid state drives, there’s always something new to keep track of. While these changes have been non-stop, the pace of change in the last few years has been greater than ever before.

What compounds this challenge is the scope of organisations powered by IT. Two decades ago, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a start-up or mid-sized company to make do with data on fat clients running their own applications and a local backup run once a week. Today, most businesses operate on a hybrid IT model, on a journey towards the cloud – both of which require data centres or significant on-site IT investments.

What do these changes mean for data centre professionals in terms of operational professionalism? It’s not simple – and we mean this literally. Managing a data centre, even from a colocation perspective where the software is run or even maintained by the customer, requires a more sophisticated understanding than ‘checking that the green light is on’. For example, in the case of servers with options for redundant power supplies, it can often be difficult to work out if the two power sockets are plugged into different power paths – but without this check, the point of having redundant power at the server level is completely negated.

Good communication needs to be underpinned with knowledge

Similarly, being familiar with equipment specifications is crucial. For example, not knowing if a blade server is hot-swappable – even when doing something as trivial as checking a serial number for a maintenance operation – can result in downtime for an entire e-commerce server. None of these instances are limited to any particular type of technology.

The answer to these problems is multi-faceted, but always involves better communication and changing behaviours to keep learning and building expertise in new and different areas. Even when a customer is configuring equipment remotely, it’s still vitally important to stay in touch with them, building an understanding of workloads so that you can physically support the infrastructure as best befits the application running on it.

It may seem strange that the roles of data centre staff are changing to revolve more around people than technology, but keeping in touch with customers, partners, hardware and software vendors has never been more important. There may be a lot of industry debate about the latest gadgets and software developments, but data centres are still the backbone of our technological worlds. If you don’t believe me, just unplug a server – any server – from its power supply and see how long it takes before your phone starts ringing!

However, this good communication needs to be underpinned with knowledge – and there are plenty of places to gather this from. Remember to keep up with the latest training, be aware of standards and best practices, keep up with industry news, attend industry events, and read analyst reports and news.

It may seem odd that although we spend every day surrounded by some of the most complex technology in the world, the thing holding us and our organisations back is human communication and our behaviours.

This post originated at Data Centre Management magazine, from the same publisher as The Stack. Click here to find out more about the UK’s most important industry publication for the data centre space.

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