The first data center had 17,468 vacuum tubes, performed 5,000 operations per second and required 6 full time techs to keep it running. “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC)” was a beast in terms of early computing prowess, but while it required constant nurturing by human caretakers, tomorrow’s data center might not need people at all.
The next-gen data center, a looming reality for managers, could take several forms. From micro data centers to something more centralized, perhaps built on an open compute model. In any case, what’s coming next will take fewer humans than ever to keep it operating.
Facilities functions are increasingly being outsourced to specialty firms — from janitorial services and painting the lines in the parking lot to managing the data center. A quick search on Indeed.com shows a majority of data center jobs are with these types of firms or with colocation providers.
So traditional enterprise data center managers may be hired by outsourcing companies, and the role will exist in a different context, but for others, the next-gen data center will require next-gen data center managers, with completely different skill sets. They will have to adjust their talents to align with this new value proposition. Plus, a modern data center, defined by software, is on its way to automation through data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools.
The cost transparency delivered by cloud services like Amazon AWS has also added pressure to deliver. Russell Senesac, Data Center Business Development Director, Schneider Electric, points out that in the past, the cost of running an application through the enterprise was diluted. The electricity bill, for example, rolled up covering expenses to run other things.
“Now you can take one application to the cloud and know exactly how much it costs per month. Managers must demonstrate they can be as competitive as cloud,” he says. That level of financial granularity may be completely new to some managers as they begin transitioning to new roles.
Over the next decade, the enterprise will see “brain drain,” according to Russell, with more data center managers retiring than entering the system. “Kids coming out of college are not going into facilities, they are going into the IT side of the house,” he says.
But that won’t result in the automatic endowment of critical status for those remaining who will have to prove their value by bringing high-level expertise to the hard won seat at the table.
“Their jobs must move from tactical to strategic, coming from a position of being able to make recommendations to improve the data center. It’s about knowing where the space is going versus just wrenching and reporting,” says Russell.
Still, data center managers should not let these skills lag, but get ahead of them with certifications in new technologies. Those who embrace the automation that may one day replace them will actually benefit by delivering more resiliency, speed and efficiency, but a leap of faith is required before loosening the manual controls.
At risk of being lost in a human free data center, Russell explains, “Data center managers need to put themselves on the front end versus on the back end where they might have to defend their jobs. The front end means showing up with a plan to save money, whereas the back end comes to the table asking for it.”