Data centres add technology without staff support, says survey

As data centres continue to add technology, they aren't necessarily adding people to manage their servers, new surveys have found.

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As data centres continue to add technology, they aren't necessarily adding people to manage their servers, new surveys have found.

The majority of data centres in a survey conducted by the data centre managers group Association for Computer Operations Management (AFCOM) have either reduced their staff over the last three years, 37%, or kept their staffing levels the same, 29%. The balance, nearly 35%, increased staff.

But over this same period, nearly 74% of the data centres increased their physical server count, according to the AFCOM survey, which queried 360 IT managers and other senior IT executives. The upshot is that many data centres, 66%, are managing more systems with the same number or fewer people.

A separate study by Metrics Based Assessments (MBA) explains what's happening.

MBA, which benchmarks about 100 data centres a year, reported that in 2006 the number of Linux operating system images supported by system administrators full time was at 9.2, but by 2010 it was at 17.1, an 86% gain. For Windows over that same period, the gain was 61% and Unix, 38%, according to the data.

"What we're really seeing is that people are adding capacity but they are not increasing staff size and somehow the staff is figuring out how to deal with it," said Mark Levin, a partner at MBA. "And a lot of it has to do with improved levels of automation or things of that nature."

But even with technical improvements, Levin said productivity gains are also happening because data centre workers are just being told to do more work.

"The impact of server virtualisation, server management software and automation is making the data centre more efficient," said John Longwell, vice president of research at Computer Economics. "At the same time, server counts are still rising, despite all the yacking about server consolidation and data centre consolidation."

But this is also a consistent long term trend. Computer operators (now called system administrators) used to account for about 10% of the IT staff back in 1997, said Longwell. Today, they account for 3.3% of the IT staff.

Among the other major trends shaping events is cloud computing adoption. In October of 2009, the AFCOM survey found that only 14% of data centres had implemented any form of cloud computing, something the organisation has since made a priority in its training programmes. That now stands at 36%.

"Our prediction is that 80% to 90% of all data centres will be adopting some form of cloud computing in the next five years," said Jill Eckhaus, CEO of AFCOM. Eckhaus said that managers are more interested in private clouds for control and security reasons, but her adoption estimate also includes use of public cloud services.

In terms of budgets, nearly 38% of the companies in the AFCOM survey expect to increase their data centre budgets in 2011, with 41% remaining the same and 20% declining.

Eckhaus said the survey also found that 15% have no plans for data backup and recovery, and some 30% didn't have backup sites. "To me these statistics are shocking," she said.

Levin said he is unsurprised by lack of spending on disaster recovery. "We thought after 9/11 there would be a significant increase in disaster recovery spending, it never happened," said Levin.

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