Facilities management team to the IT department: Let's work together

To the facilities management team, the data center is just another building it controls. However, it also controls every other building within the organization. With a diverse portfolio including warehouses, offices, kitchens, restrooms, car parks and storage systems, the data center may just be another item on its list.

For the IT department, the data center is the center of the universe. The main components that support the mission critical aspects of the business are the servers, storage and network systems that are housed within the data center; if anything goes wrong, then it is the IT department's neck on the line – even if the problem was due to a facilities issue.

What happens when priorities don't match? A blocked executive restroom could upset a lot of people, and the facilities management team may put a few people on this to satisfy complaints of senior management, whereas a request to "check up on the cooling in the data center, please – we've noticed a small rise in temperature" may not be as high on facilities' list.

The fact that the small rise in temperature denoted a cooling system failure that is just about to lead to the forced shutdown of all systems in the data center, and that the executives could use a different restroom for the day just didn't really come into the equation – facilities and IT have to work more closely together.

Does this mean that facilities and IT must start having long, interminable meetings to discuss matters that are seen as critical for one side and not for the other? No, it just means that each side must be able to see the root cause of any problem rapidly and when required. Automation tools play a big role in making this happen.

DCIM brings facilities management and IT together Use monitoring, common measurement and management systems, and shared data sources to start. This way, the building information system (BIS) used by facilities is plugged into the exact same data used by IT's systems management tools. When IT sees a small rise in temperature on a single piece of IT equipment, it's likely to be just a fault in that piece of equipment, but if it sees a rise in temperature across the board, it is more likely to be a facilities issue. Likewise, hot spots that could lead to a risk of fire are better served from the use of facilities systems, such as smoke and infrared detection systems.

A relatively new approach to bringing tools and systems closer together is now being used by some organizations. Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) started as a specific set of tools for facilities to look after the data center as a special case. DCIM tools enabled facilities to look at how the data center was laid out, how power distribution and cooling was configured and so on.

As DCIM usage grew, vendors introduced other functions such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and structured cabling. This led to areas such as granular power management with some DCIM tools with comprehensive equipment databases covering real-world data on how much power a specific server, storage system or network device would draw.

With such comprehensive DCIM systems, IT departments took notice and much of what the tools did was seen as useful. Seeing exactly how much power a rack or a row would draw means IT can look to see if the data center infrastructure is capable of providing enough energy. Using CFD allows them to ensure that usage of racks and rows will not lead directly to poor cooling flows.

Where space limitations force IT to make decisions that could lead to a need for more power or better cooling, using DCIM tools means that facilities management can be included in the decision – "Is it possible to bring in more power here? Can the amount of cooling be improved through better ducting to this area?"

Facilities' BIS systems may be a good feed into DCIM as time goes on. The move to "intelligent" buildings has been slow, but efforts to control carbon emissions will drive the use of IT across the organization to more optimally manage areas such as heating and cooling, the security of buildings and the management of control systems on the shop floor.

The only way that such a complex mix of technologies can be effective is when everyone involved has a true view of everything that is happening. Not only will facilities management and IT have to ensure that everything is working closely together, but they will also have to ensure that dashboards and reports are suitable for the business as well.

At the most basic level, it is time for IT and facilities management to look at how DCIM can help both teams. At a more advanced level, executive boards should be looking at how DCIM can help drive energy and carbon savings across their whole organization while providing higher availability and optimal running for critical IT systems.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Clive Longbottom is the co-founder and service director at Quocirca and has been an ITC industry analyst for more than 15 years. Trained as a chemical engineer, he worked on anti-cancer drugs, car catalysts and fuel cells before moving in to IT. He has worked on many office automation projects, as well as Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, document management and knowledge management projects.