Integrate IT And Facilities Management With A Workflow Process
Success is determined by both communication and collaboration.
After all these years it seems some of the same old “silos” still exist, including those of IT and facilities management. Some organizations have knocked down these silos and I know of one where the same staff that manages the central cooling plants and electrical power distribution also installs servers and manages the IT infrastructure, but this is definitely the exception and not the rule. So integrating the realms of IT and facilities remains a challenge to many organizations.
In organizations where IT and facilities operate as separate entities, the success of the overall site is in many ways determined by the level and effectiveness of the communications and collaboration between these two departments. The inherent challenges (and respective failures) seem to occur at the boundaries, or hand-offs between the two. Examples would include sites where facility management (FM) is responsible for providing cold air under the raised floor, but IT manages the deployment of perforated tiles; FM provides power to the rack, but IT manages which server cords get plugged into which outlets; and FM manages power allocation to the power distribution unit and/or remote power panels, but IT manages load deployment and can further exasperate the load management situation using “virtualization” that can throw an entire room out of balance electrically.
One proven solution is for the organization to establish a comprehensive workflow management process. Many organizations use these processes within their respective silo to manage the work they are responsible for. Facility management departments have workorder systems, computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), and other means to assign, track, and close work efforts. Many IT departments also use workorder systems that manage the procurement, deployment, and startup of IT equipment such as Remedy Action Request system (BMC Remedy IT Management Suite). The key to success is to integrate these systems together to develop a single process that combines management of both facility management and IT.
There are many ways to accomplish this integration and it doesn’t have to be a single software application. The key is to impose a rigid set of enforceable rules that drive discipline in how critical assets and capacities are deployed, managed, and tracked. Many of today’s DCIM products claim to have the ability to collect and report useful information regarding critical infrastructure and hardware, but it is how this information gets used that matters most.
For organizations where this remains a problem, a solution is to convene a workshop that involves both IT and facilities stakeholders. The goal of the workshop is to develop a detailed flowchart that captures the various tasks and activities associated with the management of the computer room environment including space, power, and cooling, but also captures tasks such as who manages floor tiles, blanking panels, penetration brush-strips, and removal of abandoned cable, etc. The flowchart should begin with how business needs drive the procurement of new IT equipment, but also which IT equipment can be retired, repurposed, reallocated, or removed. It should devise means to determine the power and cooling requirements of IT equipment being procured and communicate it to facilities so they can manage power and cooling capacity in a proactive manner.
The process should include “hard stops” where critical hand-offs occur between facilities and IT. An easy example would be where IT cannot power-up new IT equipment without FM verifying and approving that the dual cords are plugged into diverse power sources and adequate cooling has been provided. The process should include rack-level inspections for proper cable management, use of blanking panels, properly sealed tile penetrations, etc. The best practice is for IT and FM to designate appropriate management to perform routine inspections together as a team.
The process should also review equipment size and weight to ensure the existing raised floor can accommodate the IT weight including the transport path. If additional structural support or load leveling needs to occur then FM may require additional lead time and construction effort prior to delivery of the IT equipment. Many of today’s IT products are very heavy and can exceed the rated load capacity of raised floor systems. When lots of these servers, cabinets, etc., get grouped together it can be possible to exceed the load rating of the building floor structure.
Just as important is the process for removal or relocation of IT assets. In many computer rooms there are significant abandoned-in-place assets and infrastructure that impact the performance of the data center. The overall organization should require IT to include with any request to purchase new IT equipment a justification that also identifies what existing IT equipment can be decommissioned and removed. If IT can’t identify obsolete servers and IT equipment and find a means to move software applications to newer equipment, then there’s a bigger problem on the IT side, especially in today’s world of virtualization and software redundancies.
The overall workflow process should include requirements to add blanking panels where servers have been removed, remove existing data cables that are no longer in use, and replace perforated tiles with solid tiles when cooling demands no longer require the extra airflow. Again, some formal inspection process should be required to verify all work is complete prior to closing any work orders.
Every site and organization is unique to some extent and so no one solution applies to all. The discussion above oversimplifies the actual processes involved which in some cases include a hundred distinct tasks or more to accomplish the successful procurement, deployment, and startup of new IT equipment. This is why each organization should establish a formal and well documented workflow process that captures their unique processes, and then establishes step-by-step procedures and checklists to instill the discipline required to enforce compliance and collaboration between IT and facilities.