12 tactics to get the most out of data centers

At a conference focusing on management of federal data centers, Schneider Electric's Bob Massie spelled out a dozen areas to target.

One of the most enduring challenges with data centers, according to Bob Massie, director of Quality Systems for Schneider Electric, concerns power. Massie, who has been working with data centers for over 20 years, spoke at his company’s recent Xperience Efficiency conference in Arlington, Va.

"No matter how much it costs you to build out your data center, the operating costs will always be more," he said at the conference, which was held to show how federal agencies can make the best use of their power consumption. "Energy costs account for the largest portion of the operating budget, and those costs are rising."

Energy costs are a big part of the overall management, but there are other factors, too. To keep costs down and to keep federal data centers operating safely and efficiently, Massie outlined a 12-point plan to increase efficiency and meet organizational missions.

1. Environmental health and safety
Injuries on the job not only take workers out of commission, but might also damage equipment and lead to expensive investigations. Train staff on electrical safety, because  that is the biggest source of injury in a data center, and on situational awareness so that they can recognize problems before they become dangerous.

2. Personnel management
Employees need to know what their roles entail and how they contribute to the mission of the data center. Massie reminded managers to be sure and "drill that junior operator who is on duty at two in the morning. Be sure he knows everything about the facility from the pattern of lights on the board to how to start the diesel generator." Inefficiency and poor performance is a result of poor management.

3. Emergency preparedness and response
Employees at data centers should conduct regular emergency drills and be quizzed on incident management. Knowing what to do in an emergency can help save equipment and data.

4. Maintenance management
Maintenance management ensures that enough spare parts are stored locally in the event they are needed. A good preventative maintenance program can keep gear running so that it doesn't break in the first place.

5. Change management
Change management involves proactive risk management and assessment -- including, Massie said, escorting every single contractor while inside the facility. "It's not that you don’t trust them," he said. "But they have not gone through all the training and programs that your employees have, so you need to make sure they don’t make any mistakes based on their lack of knowledge."

6. Documentation
Too often, needed documents turned out to be missing, old or obsolete. Implementing a good system of document tracking and version control is paramount.

7. Training
Data center managers must invest in training, even though it means pulling staff away from their actual jobs. Poorly trained workers make mistakes, which cost much more in the long run. On the flip side, well-trained workers are confident and tackle situations on their own before they can become major problems.

8. Infrastructure management
Keep IT staff and the facilities personnel on the same team by monitoring network, cooling and space capacity.

9. Quality management
All processes within the data center must be standardized. "Every time you learn how not to do something, you've gotten an answer," Massie said. "Chalk that up to lessons learned."

10.  Energy management
Reliable energy management requires constant benchmarking so that managers have the data they need to improve performance.

11. Financial management
Good financial management can mean faster procurement, less redundancy, accurate budget forecasts and the ability to connect and communicate with C-level management.

12. Performance management
Employees need to be monitored and rewarded. Key performance indicators need to be made for each employee, they need to be aware of what they are, and then graded against them. This puts everyone on the same page and encourages employees to actively work  to make the data center efficient and successful.

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