Data centre managers told: 'do more with less'

Data centre managers were caught between two conflicting goals in 2008 – more demanding user expectations, and higher levels of performance, came while demands for reduced costs remain their primary objective, according to findings from Symantec’s 2008 ‘State of the Data Centre’ report.

The study targeted 1600 data centre managers in Global 5000 and large public sector institutions located in 21 countries. It found that data centre staffing remains problematic, servers and storage continue to be underutilised, and disaster recovery plans ‘are out of date’. Respondents indicated as well that while they are pursuing green data centre initiatives, they are doing so primarily based on cost (rather than Green) benefits.

Of those surveyed, 75 per cent reported user expectations are rising ‘gradually’ or ‘rapidly’. Furthermore, 60 per cent of respondents saw meeting the service levels demanded by the organization to be more difficult or much more difficult to meet. Only 10 per cent saw service levels to be easier to meet.

Nonetheless, when asked to identify their key objectives for the year, reducing costs was by far the most frequently-mentioned goal. In fact, reducing costs was mentioned by more companies than the next two objectives combined (improving service levels and improving responsiveness).

The key initiatives data centres are pursuing to ‘do more with less’ include automation of routine tasks (mentioned by 42 per cent of respondents), cross-training staff (40 per cent), and reducing data centre complexity (35 per cent).

Staffing remains a crucial issue with 36 per cent reporting that they are understaffed while only 4 per cent reported being overstaffed. Furthermore, 43 per cent say finding qualified applicants is a big or huge problem.

To address the staffing issue companies are leaning on outsourcing and training, Symantec reports. Nearly half - 45 per cent - outsource primarily to give data centre staff more time to focus on other tasks. The top three leading IT functions that businesses are outsourcing include business continuity (46 per cent), backups (43 per cent), and storage management (39 per cent). Training is seen as strategic by 68 per cent of the respondents, with 78 per cent expecting training budgets to rise or stay constant over the next two years.

Respondents reported that their data centre servers were operating at just 53 per cent of capacity. Data centre storage utilization was even lower at 50 per cent. Not surprisingly Symantec found a flurry of activity aimed at increasing utilization in both areas.

The major server-related initiatives include server consolidation (80 per cent) and server virtualisation (77 per cent); for storage the leading initiatives were storage virtualisation (76 per cent), continuous data protection (71 per cent), and storage resource management (71 per cent).

Data centre management continues to report room for improvement in the area of disaster recovery. In fact, just 35 per cent report their disaster recovery plan is above average, while 27 per cent say it needs work and 9 per cent report their plan is informal or undocumented. Companies still find that human error is the biggest cause of unplanned downtime, being the culprit 25 per cent of the time. Hardware/software failure and power outages follow closely behind.

Continuing the trend first spotted in 2007, the data centre’s focus on “being green” was driven by cost issues in 2008 with social responsibility on the rise. The study asked companies why creating a Green data centre was important to their workplace. Reducing electricity consumption was mentioned by 54 per cent, followed by reducing cooling costs (51 per cent) and a sense of responsibility to the community (42 per cent).

“IT managers and executives are in a tough spot,” says Rod Soderbery, senior vice president of Symantec’s Storage and Availability Management Group. “Cost reduction is a non-negotiable objective this year, while user expectations remain high and demand continues to rise.”

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