Over the last 20 years or so, and especially in the last 10, we've seen data centers evolve from cost centres to drivers of businesses, in the process raising the profile of CIOs and putting ever-more stringent demands on data center availability.
Realising that the data center is the heart of their business has executive leadership teams thinking about data center operations, and who is best positioned to do the job effectively.
For most organisations, it seems increasingly likely the answer is “not us.
Data Centers: once strictly a cost centre
In this post, I want to focus on that data center evolution story, and the ramifications it has for the CIO's role as well as data center operations.
If you go back 30 years or so, for most companies' data center were strictly cost centres: they were something companies spent (a lot of) money on simply to “keep the lights on,” so to speak.
That gradually started to change as it became clear that IT would be a key business driver. Companies that used technology effectively began to flourish.
I recall reading stories about big companies like Boeing and GM making major IT investments and reaping big rewards in terms of productivity.
Not coincidentally, they were both leaders in various standards bodies that developed some of the networking and computing standards still in place today. They understood that standardisation was important in this emerging industry in order to make the most of it.
Data Centers as business drivers
Flash forward to today and for many companies, their data centers are crucial to most any business endeavour. And I don't mean just the companies that are built on technology, like Facebook or Google, but any financial institution, retailer, manufacturer and on and on. They all must meet customer demands for new digital experiences.
As this evolution was happening, the status and responsibilities of CIOs were also changing.
With data centers being crucial to business profit and loss, CIOs must now be a partner in all strategic decisions. They're no longer simply taking orders from the business, but are sitting with the rest of the executive team.
They're even taking on the responsibility to ensure the rest of the C-suite is tech-savvy and can understand the opportunities IT presents.
With the data center now a revenue-generator, it changes the picture in terms of how it is viewed by the company.
Companies must invest in data center infrastructure and treat it as the strategic investment that it is.
The data center has to be scalable and agile to meet consumer and business demands that are rapidly changing.
And it can't ever go down. We used to talk about “five nines” availability, meaning 99.999% uptime. Now we talk about zero unplanned downtime.
Is data center operations your core competency?
Meeting those demands day in and day out takes specialised expertise that, let's face it, most companies don't have. Nor should they be expected to. If you're a bank, then producing great financial products is your core competency, not running data center.
CIOs are increasingly recognising this simple fact and looking to out-task data center operations as a way to manage risk and control operating expenses.
A company that's in the business of managing data centers will have standardised, documented operating procedures that bring efficiencies and reliability.
It's often difficult for individual companies to implement the same sort of standardisation, especially in the face of mergers and acquisitions that leave them with multiple data centers that each have their own flavour.
Just as the Boeings and GMs of the world understood that standardisation was important in the early days of IT, it's no less so when it comes to data center operations.