Half of all data centers understaffed, Symantec survey finds

Budget, lack of qualified applicants challenge IT shops

Fifty percent of IT executives say their data centers are understaffed, and companies are still looking for more ways to cut costs.

Fifty percent of IT executives say their data centers are understaffed, and companies are still looking for more ways to cut costs, according to Symantec's latest "State of the Data Center" report.

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Sixteen percent of survey respondents said their data centers are extremely understaffed, and another 34% called their data centers somewhat understaffed. At the same time, data centers are becoming more complex and harder to manage, with more applications, data and increasingly demanding service-level agreements.

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"Data center complexity has led to a lot of staffing challenges," says Sean Derrington, director of storage management and high availability at Symantec.

For its third annual data center report, Symantec commissioned Applied Research to survey data center specialists in 1,780 enterprises worldwide, each with at least 1,000 employees.

"We recently actually lost 25% of our departments in cutbacks," one network manager in New York told researchers. "I'm now doing a number of different jobs. I work from home and on the weekends doing things I never had to do before. I am just trying to do more with less. We could use more people, but right now, it doesn't seem to be an option."

The vast majority of companies said they are having trouble finding enough money and enough qualified applicants to keep their data center staff at healthy levels. Nonetheless, 45% of companies say their data centers are appropriately staffed, and 5% reported being overstaffed.

Companies are looking to save money in many ways. Thirty-one percent reported reducing headcount in 2009, up from 24% from the prior year. Nearly half are cross-training IT staff, while other popular cost containment strategies include increasing automation of routine tasks, server virtualization and consolidation, data center consolidation, chargeback, cloud computing  and outsourcing.

The survey identified one finding that Symantec executives initially found surprising. Mid-sized enterprises (those with 2,000 to 9,000 employees) are adopting new technologies much faster than the largest enterprises, the survey showed. This was true for a wide range of technologies, including virtualization, cloud computing, data de-duplication, replication and continuous data protection.

While it is sometimes assumed that the largest companies are the ones most likely to be early adopters, the Symantec survey found that is not the case because IT purchasing within giant corporations can be stymied by red tape.

"Mid-sized companies exist in what I would call the 'Goldilocks zone,'" one Seattle-based IT manager told researchers. "Whereas large companies take several years just to evaluate anything. And small companies lack resources, mid-sized companies have just the right mix of resources and agility to quickly tackle new technologies."

The top three data center initiatives cited by survey respondents were security, backup and recovery and continuous data protection. Those technologies were rated as more important than server virtualization, data archiving, green technology and the cloud, among others.

Given that the survey was commissioned by Symantec -- a specialist in antivirus, backup and storage -- those results don't seem surprising. However, Derrington said the survey did not exclude non-Symantec customers and Applied Research does not reveal to Symantec how many enterprises in the survey sample are customers of Symantec.

Symantec also examined disaster-recovery plans, and found a mix of good and bad news. On average, respondents reported an 80% confidence level in their DR plans. However, one-third of enterprises said their DR plans are undocumented or need work. One-third of enterprises also haven't re-evaluated their DR plans in the last 12 months, and numerous respondents haven't yet written virtual servers, remote offices and cloud initiatives into their formal plans.

These findings clearly indicate that there is room for improvement in DR planning, Derrington says. A typical enterprise in the survey suffered two downtime events in the past 12 months, with the main causes being system and application failures, natural disasters, and human error.Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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