The complexity of data center environments was already growing by leaps and bounds before 2020, but, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, complexity accelerated to a new level.

Operators who thought they had a handle on managing their assets prior to the pandemic were left scrambling to keep up with the accelerating trend toward distributed IT environments, demand for greater capacity to meet new business requirements, and problems finding qualified staff.

As data center operators seek to navigate the continuing complexity of the landscape in 2022 and beyond, many will do so amid mounting pressures to be more cost-effective, higher performing, and more sustainable. Thankfully, there are tools and approaches available to help untangle this complexity in a way that can lay a foundation for future flexibility and growth.

A Multitude of Challenges

The increasing complexity of IT, technological advances, and business demands has upended the idea of the traditional, centralized data center environment and even redefined the concept of the data center itself. Because of this, each environment is becoming more unique in such a way that simple, one-size-fits-all solutions are insufficient to meet the growing list of challenges operators face.

One of those challenges is the explosion of compute and storage at the edge. The push to bring business-critical data closer to end users while helping alleviate capacity and bandwidth issues in the core data center has pushed more critical infrastructure to distributed environments, creating an unwieldy architecture that becomes increasingly difficult to manage. According to Uptime Institute, 58% of companies still expect to see a significant increase in edge computing going forward. As more distributed environments come online, it becomes more challenging to monitor and address issues, such as power outages, when they inevitably occur.

In the face of greater demands and a finite amount of data center space, operators should consider whether there’s an opportunity to optimize assets in their core data centers and better manage capacity. The cloud may be attractive to some, but the same Uptime Institute survey found 73% of operators were unwilling to shift critical workloads to the public cloud. Rather than buying capacity in colocation facilities or building new data centers, both of which are costly and result in less control over assets, many wonder how to better use the capacity and assets that currently exist.

Operators weigh these concerns while managing the same significant hiring struggles that have impacted many industries amid the pandemic. The Uptime Institute study found roughly half of operators have difficulty finding qualified staff to fill open data center positions, leading to a concerning lack of on-site support or staff to manage critical functions. This can make addressing issues with capacity and workloads even more daunting, as operators are forced to be more efficient with fewer hands.  

These challenges alone, and the complexities caused by them, are enough to keep even the most seasoned operator up at night. Thankfully, there are ways to employ both technology and processes to help mitigate these issues while enabling flexibility and the opportunity to optimize for future growth.

Unraveling the Complexity

There are many tools and approaches available to help data center operators address the growing complexity of their environments. Some of these include the following.

  • Best-of-breed monitoring — Remote monitoring has emerged as a highly effective solution for operators seeking to manage the complexity of their environments better, especially as they continue their move to the edge. Remote monitoring tools are essential for understanding the overall health of data center infrastructure (in both centralized and edge environments) in real time and over time. They can provide alerts and alarms to help operators understand when problems occur; get a better handle on assets to save energy and costs; and often feature reporting, trending, and dashboards that provide insights on growth over time.
  • Capacity management — Capacity management tools can help operators better utilize their assets today while providing a data-driven approach to expanding in the face of increasing capacity demands. Deploying these tools can help automate the tracking of data center assets and how they are used, overcoming human errors and helping operators make smarter decisions to expand intelligently. For example, capacity management tools allow operators to proactively analyze the impact of a new deployment project by evaluating if enough space, power, cooling, network ports, etc., are available before deploying a project — not during the physical deployment.
  • Data center automation and managed services — Many data center operators are experiencing staffing shortages, and leveraging automation can help them manage time and resources while delivering business-critical services to customers. Additionally, operators can partner with managed service providers to help take on time-consuming tasks and workflows, alleviating some of the burdens that come from a lack of adequate support staff until they can make the right hires for open positions.

Data is the key theme in helping effectively use these tools to reduce complexity. Technology can help automate processes and workflows, but its real value comes from having accurate data and insights into data connections across the devices managed. Data drives views into state of health, capacity planning, load/environment balancing, and optimizing both core data center assets as well as edge deployments. This all starts with documenting and ensuring data is accurate.

Unique Solutions

Many of the tools outlined in this article are available in DCIM software solutions. However, as mentioned earlier, every data center is unique, and a one-size-fits-all approach will likely be insufficient to pinpoint and prioritize every issue that must be addressed. Operators must identify a vendor who can work with them to understand their unique challenges and be flexible enough to deploy solutions that achieve the specific outcomes they seek.

While technology can be a key solution, having the right human knowledge and processes are essential to overcoming obstacles. Operators should understand what tools they currently have in place, and their roles, to ensure that, as they embrace new solutions, their organizations are prepared to grow into any process changes that may come with them. When deployed effectively, these tools can help operators demystify data center complexity while helping position them for future growth and success.