June 27, 2008 • Vol.30 Issue 26Page(s) 9 in print issue
There exists a dilemma of mounting proportions in data centers at many small to midsized enterprises. As companies realize the benefits of blending business and IT objectives to further the overall success of the business itself, IT managers are being perpetually pulled away from data center tasks that they shouldn’t ignore. Budget restraints at many companies prevent the hiring of additional personnel to solve this problem, but service providers can offer an effective alternative. The following services can not only remove data center responsibilities from the shoulders of IT managers, but they can even introduce expertise and value into the overall data center equation. Data Services The IT staffs in many SMEs can capably handle a wide range of technological demands, but as businesses grow, the demands can put a hefty strain on existing personnel. This strain becomes particularly evident around data-related tasks such as electronic data storage, data backup, records management, document imaging, and document destruction. “Data-related service providers offer an effective alternative,” says Nicholas Kottyan, CEO of DataChambers (http://www.datachambers.com/). “For example, outsourcing routine data backups can ensure that business-critical information is protected on a regular basis, even if a team member is sick, on vacation, or decides to leave the company. You can free up valuable staff time for more important assignments while maintaining continuity in your operations.” Using outside data services can also provide integral support to a company’s growth strategy, Kottyan says, because they provide it with a flexible method for managing peaks and valleys in the demand for IT support until managers can establish a firm trend line and determine whether it makes good business sense to add more employees. “Many SMBs outsource a portion of their operations in order to complement their own internal IT team. You might need extra arms and legs, 24/7 coverage, or a way to redeploy your internal resources to more critical tasks. You might want to store backups at a remote site, establish hot desks for disaster recovery, devote dedicated resources to hotline support, or find a more cost-effective way to maintain desktop computers,” Kottyan says. “Service providers can tailor support plans to meet your precise requirements and do so for a predictable monthly fee.” Power Services As the focus on green IT continues to grow, data center managers are placing a heavier emphasis on ensuring their power systems are correctly configured. For SMEs, this can entail tasks as simple as power testing to more advanced undertakings, such as CFD (computational fluid dynamics) modeling and full data center power assessments. This is weighty territory that’s often best left to power experts who can provide these services on a one-time or even regular basis. “Regular power testing helps you identify potential problems before they impact the bottom line,” says Omar McKee, manager of service solutions for Emerson Network Power’s Liebert Service (http://www.liebert.com/). "Too often, data center managers aren't aware of an issue with the power system until the power goes out, and that's an expensive alarm system. . . . As equipment ages and the IT network evolves, new problems will present themselves. Continued testing—even when it seems unnecessary—enables you to be prepared when those problems arise.” Power services are available for data centers of any size and can be as simple as the installation and continued maintenance of a UPS or the maintenance, monitoring, and replacement of batteries. More advanced services provide availability assessment, which can entail safety compliance, electrical infrastructure examination, power quality testing, and fuse and breaker examination. Power service providers also often handle cooling assessments and air-conditioning maintenance.
Planning, Design & Quality Assurance Although SMEs might have the technical personnel to run an IT organization, planning and designing data centers and other IT infrastructure brings a set of challenges that often require outside expertise. Increasingly, the data center is tied into the business, and according to Dennis Lasley, vice president of Accent Global System Architects (http://www.accentglobal-llc.com/), the business is an important and often overlooked stakeholder. “Often, in-house experts, although they may be fully capable, are tied to organizational norms that may preclude a ‘fresh’ review of the business requirements,” Lasley says. “Service providers specializing in closing the business-to-technology gap can usually provide an unbiased and unfiltered review of business operations and the supporting system infrastructure.” Planning and design services can help with large or small projects and address a wide range of issues, including site selection, feasibility studies, architectural design, raised floor design, availability and risk assessments, and others. Many companies also offer quality assurance services, which help to ensure new and existing designs are running at efficient, effective levels. Cleaning, Maintenance & Repairs Most of the hype surrounding data centers entails the technology that resides within them, but without proper physical support for that technology, a data center can encounter big problems in a hurry. SMEs that are already strapped for bodies to run the data centers can’t afford specialized personnel to clean, maintain, and repair the equipment and infrastructure. “General maintenance tasks can be performed internally, but tasks that are specific to a particular system, such as the power or HVAC systems, may be best left to personnel certified in maintaining those systems,” notes Kris Domich, principal consultant of data center and storage solutions at Dimension Data (http://www.dimensiondata.com/). “Some of the most innocent attempts to clean sensitive components can result in damage, injury, or a voided warranty.” Service providers not only have personnel specifically trained to carefully clean expensive, sensitive equipment and the areas around it, but they also have equipment built for the job, including antistatic tools and chemicals. Cleaning and maintenance services are available for all areas of the data center, including raised floors and ceilings. Repair services are also available for all types of data center equipment, but not all providers service all equipment types. Depending on the type and scope of the repair, companies may opt to solicit bids for certain repair jobs. Security Advances in technology can bring a bounty of benefits to businesses and their bottom lines, but they also inevitably introduce more security threats that can be difficult to monitor and prevent. Chris Richter, vice president and general manager of security services at SAVVIS (http://www.savvis.net/), explains that SMEs often find that properly managing their security involves making a significant investment in capital and personnel. “Among other security best practices, separation of duties requires separate job functions for the management of IT security and other IT tasks. For example, it is not considered a best practice for a database administrator to also be responsible for management of firewall rules,” Richter says. “Outsourcing security functions to a managed security services provider can help SMBs achieve separation-of-duty practices and growth without adding personal costs.” Managed security service providers can address all of an SME’s security needs or just tackle particular areas, such as firewall management, intrusion prevention and detection, log management, vulnerability assessment, wireless security, and others. Some providers also offer physical security services, which can be useful for companies looking to protect resources around the clock.
by Christian Perry