Information technology and critical facilities department managers must constantly balance the key objectives of continuous availability and minimal cost in managing the critical assets of corporate data centers. Industry data consistently demonstrates the risk of downtime is equally present all days of the week, at all hours. Virtually all who manage truly critical facilities have implemented continuous shift facilities staff coverage to address this reality. Unfortunately, many have assigned an inadequate number of staff members to successfully minimize downtime risk.

A single individual on a shift is unable to safely and functionally perform most tasks and must wait for others to arrive when responding to many incidents. Reliance on staff members driving to the facility in time to help a single shift individual resolve a problem will ultimately fail to deliver the desired outcome.

Those who plan to staff only one individual on a shift should ask themselves what they expect the individual to accomplish. Are they to monitor systems and call for help when an alarm is received? Is this necessary because the site has no BAS? By not waiting for help, a single individual can often make matters worse.

To respond safely and effectively to facilities infrastructure incidents, a continuous presence of at least two individuals is a necessity. When thorough site-specific procedures and training are provided, a shift team of two individuals can effectively resolve most incidents involving cooling, engine-generator, and fire protection systems before downtime occurs. Of equal importance, this level of staff coverage will ensure systems are stabilized and restored to service as quickly as possible when an electrical system interruption has occurred.

A minimum of two individuals ensures personnel on each shift will be able to perform productive scheduled work, instead of simply serving as shift “watchmen.” Many facilities tasks in a data center environment cannot be safely performed without at least two sets of hands. Tasks involving electrical systems, switching activities, working at heights, and working in confined spaces are prime examples. Two people are required to effectively utilize a procedure and to avoid missing or repeating a step. The airline industry’s consistent use of this practice for pilots and co-pilots is well known.

A paired shift coverage strategy will frequently show a cost savings compared to a single-person-per-shift plan, if typically contracted monthly, quarterly, and annual work activities are brought in-house over a phased schedule. Increased confidence of operation and pride of ownership are equally important benefits to be gained in the process.

For a critical facility, a minimum of 10 shift individuals is required, in addition to project and support service coordinators, an administrative support person, a supervisor or lead person, and a manager.

Figure 1 illustrates a successful single facility staffing strategy employed by many critical facilities operations and includes the following members:

  • Facilities operations manager: Manages team responsible for one critical facility — oversight and appraisals of all facilities operations team members; also responsible for budgets and customer interface.

  • Administrative assistant: Assistance provided to manager and all team members for one critical facility; receiving point for customer requests.

  • Project coordinator: Handles all projects and works with design engineers and contractors to prevent maintenance shift engineers from being pulled away from duties and to ensure project work does not impact critical operation.

  • Shift supervisor or lead person: Typically, the person shift engineers go to with technical questions; assigns and follows up on preventive maintenance (PM) tasks and individual objectives for shift engineers; provides input to manager on shift engineers’ performance; could also be designated (part of role) as either procedures, training, or documentation coordinator.

  • Support services coordinator: Manages all ancillary services, contractors, such as grounds, janitorial, snow removal, etc.; could also be designated (part of role) as procedures, training, or documentation coordinator.

  • Shift engineers: Perform (and oversee contractors who assist with) daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual PM activities in addition to customer workorders (including electrical circuit changes in critical space). Each should have a combination of collective goals and individual objectives to evenly distribute ownership of systems, components, and processes. One or two could also be designated (part of role) as procedures, training, or documentation coordinator.

Adequate staff size permits consistent development, implementation, and updating of site-specific procedures and training programs.

The plan defined above specifies the minimum number of individuals needed to achieve the objective, regardless of the size of your critical facility. A greater number will be required if your facility is substantially larger or more complex than most, due to the higher volume of preventive maintenance tasks.

When deploying a minimum of two individuals per shift, there are many shift schedule options to consider. Managers may choose to involve employees in determining the schedule that works best for the group. One of the simplest options is depicted in Table 1:

Individual shift engineers are identified by a number in Table 1 and include:             

  • Individuals 1-6 work five eight-hour shifts.                

  • Individuals 7 - 9 work four 10-hour shifts, offering two hours’ help to another shift (not shown).

  • A tenth individual is needed to cover vacation, sick time, and training time for the others, as well as providing extra help.        

Your organization’s “tolerance for pain” should drive the appropriate shift coverage plan for your critical facilities staff. If your organization can survive occasional unexpected interruptions to cooling or power at your critical facility, then a weekday-only shift should suffice. Five to seven individuals and a manager can effectively address the workload for a standalone critical facility with a weekday-only shift. In this scenario, incidents occurring during evenings and weekends will sometimes result in operations interruptions before staff members can respond after a call-in.

For those charged by their organization with preventing as many interruptions as possible to their critical facility’s operation, there is no option but to ensure that at least two individuals, fully trained on site-specific procedures, are deployed on each shift — spanning all days and hours of the week.