Data center architect should oversee production of a 21st century data center

* Staffing and organizing for the 21st century data center

Paradigm shifts almost always result in people and process shifts. As new technologies get rolled out, they require new approaches to architecting, designing and managing them - and that's in addition to the entirely new technical skill-sets they require.

For example, application development in today's service-oriented architecture (SOA) era means more than just refreshing yesterday's Cobol programmer with J2EE or .Net skills. Back in the day, application development at large enterprises required dozens to hundreds of programmers working together in tightly choreographed projects lasting for several years. That meant taking a highly structured, process-oriented approach to application development, and put a premium on project management over technical virtuosity (some of the best project managers in the world are folks who oversaw development projects in the 1970s and 1980s). Today, all that's changed: a mission-critical application can be developed and debugged by a half-dozen programmers over a weekend - putting a premium on creativity and technical skills over project management and structure.

How does this pertain to the new data center? As technologies such as virtualization, grid computing, and synchronous replication become more widespread, they're forcing changes in the role of data center managers. In our recently published Nemertes Research benchmark on Next-Generation Data Centers, 44% of participants say the data center is managed by a director of operations. Another 20% say it's under the oversight of the CIO, and 20% say it's another IT/IS manager.

It's time to take a more holistic approach. In particular, Nemertes believes the data center should be under the guidance and oversight of a data center architect, who has ultimate responsibility for the design and integration of "five pillars" that align to produce a 21st century data center: servers, storage, security, management and facilities.

Singling out facilities for a moment, it's worth noting that "facilities upgrade" is by far the top-funded priority of benchmark participants (with 79% citing it as a funded initiative). And it's by no means a solved problem: Of the top five data center challenges cited by participants, four are related to facilities (power, cooling, availability, and footprint/space). For that reason, we recommend that the data center architect has oversight, and ultimate control, of facilities design and decisions. That's distinct from the way most data centers are handled today, with facilities as a separate organization.

But it's not just facilities that needs to be integrated into the data center architect's domain. Overall, the data center architect should be the individual who's tasked with taking an integrated, holistic approach to data center architecture and design. Each of the five pillars cited above affects, and is affected by, the others: It's impossible to architect a secure data center without taking the facilities design and architecture into consideration, for example. And designing servers and storage without an eye towards manageability and operations is a recipe for failure. And these decisions can be far-reaching: The typical data center lasts for 15 to 20 years (54% of benchmark participants' data centers were built prior to 1991).

The bottom line? New paradigms require new people, and appointing a data center architect is one way to ensure that your next-generation data centers will endure into the generation beyond.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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