Networking

Why IT Should Get in the Facilities Business

Picture in your mind the facilities management guy or gal in your building: Are you envisioning someone in a pair of overalls and a screwdriver tucked in the back pocket?

If so, who are you going to call when the rack density in the datacenter increases from 2 to 3 kilowatts per rack to 12 kW per rack thanks to IT technologies like virtualization and server consolidation?

If your facilities manager is the screwdriver-in-the-pocket type, don't be surprised when you're told, "You better shut some of these contraptions down!"

Due to the realities of rising energy costs and new energy management systems, the traditional facilities manager is morphing into a tech-savvier operations role, one that is pushing both IT managers and facilities managers into a more consultative relationship. In some cases, facilities management is becoming part of IT.

At a recent Datacenter Users' Group meeting sponsored by Emerson Network Power, 62 percent of the 230 industry experts from Fortune 1000 companies said that collaboration between IT and facilities management has increased over the last 12 months.

Matt Kightlinger, director of solutions at Emerson, believes that driving this convergence is the need for energy efficiency to lead to lower costs. "It is forcing IT and [facilities management] to increase efficiencies from an operations perspective," he says.

But there's been a historic disconnect between IT and facilities, with each making decisions in isolation. "IT buys on performance from IT vendors, so they never get the actual [energy] bill at the end of the month," says David Cappuccio, a Gartner analyst. But the high cost of energy is pushing the two groups together. When the CFO asks IT and facilities about the IT energy budget, each side says the other department is responsible, and that's not an acceptable answer. "Suddenly, both sides are realizing that to create a more efficient infrastructure based on energy, they need to cooperate," he says.

The Shift Starts in the Datacenter

The hot spot for this shift into tech is definitely the datacenter. That is where the business logic for combining IT and facilities management really comes on strong.

Typically, "facilities management" means taking care of the building systems, comfort systems, and power. But facilities management also takes care of the critical energy infrastructure that goes into the datacenter. And that means IT is at least heavily involved with facilities and, in some cases, applies IT techniques itself to managing the energy infrastructure.

The popularity of energy-saving virtualization technology is one reason IT is getting involved in energy infrastructure management. Here's why: The use of virtualization reduces the number of servers needed, decreasing overall energy consumption, but there's now more energy used per server and greater risk to the enterprise if any server fails, since several virtual servers will shut off when the physical server goes.

Suddenly IT finds itself more concerned with increased energy monitoring and cooling at the rack level -- having sufficient juice and cooling in the rack room is not good enough, says Gartner's Cappuccio. That rack-level focus is not an area in which facilities management is experienced.

Server chips from AMD and Intel can trigger automatic alerts when they detect too much heat and even throttle back the chip speed to reduce heat emissions. However, a simple solution like throttling back may not be the answer if those racks are running mission-critical applications during peak business hours. This goes way beyond the room- and building-oriented energy and cooling focus of traditional facilities management, instead requiring systems akin to network management, in which IT has experience.

When the facilities and IT networks are part of a single entity, the unified system will know when peak demand is expected and be able to react better. For example, the policies in such a system could turn on more servers or draw from on-demand resources to better distribute the load, rather than curb performance.

Another area where IT has the experience required for the new energy environment is in asset tracking, says Emerson's Kightlinger. It's not enough to track physical assets, he says; businesses need to also track the power consumption and usage patterns to figure out appropriate load balancing -- the kind of work typically handled through monitoring software IT has long experience with, all managed through a database. "IT managers run that [database]," he says.

But the systems IT has used for monitoring -- such as CA Unicenter, Hewlett-Packard OpenView, and IBM Tivoli -- haven't been designed to understand the implications of energy usage or of business implications of changes, says James White, a product manager at Managed Objects. However, that's beginning to change as "business service management" features -- specifically, ones related to facilities management -- come into the traditional monitoring tools from CA, HP, IBM, and Managed Objects.

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