Why IT should get in the facilities business

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The rising costs of energy and new energy management systems mean the traditional facilities manager is morphing into a tech-savvier operations role, one that is pushing both IT managers and facilities managers into a more consultative relationship. In some cases, facilities management is becoming part of IT.

At a recent Datacentre Users' Group meeting sponsored by Emerson Network Power, 62 percent of the 230 industry experts from Fortune 1000 list of top US companies said that collaboration between IT and facilities management has increased over the last 12 months.

Matt Kightlinger, director of solutions at Emerson, believes that driving this convergence is the need for energy efficiency to lead to lower costs. "It is forcing IT and [facilities management] to increase efficiencies from an operations perspective," he says.

But there's been a historic disconnect between IT and facilities, with each making decisions in isolation. "IT buys on performance from IT vendors, so they never get the actual [energy] bill at the end of the month," says David Cappuccio, a Gartner analyst.

But the high cost of energy is pushing the two groups together. When the CFO asks IT and facilities about the IT energy budget, each side says the other department is responsible, and that's not an acceptable answer. "Suddenly, both sides are realizing that to create a more efficient infrastructure based on energy, they need to cooperate," he says.

The shift starts in the datacentre

The hot spot for this shift into tech is definitely the datacentre. That is where the business logic for combining IT and facilities management really comes on strong.

Typically, "facilities management" means taking care of the building systems, comfort systems, and power. But facilities management also takes care of the critical energy infrastructure that goes into the datacentre. And that means IT is at least heavily involved with facilities and, in some cases, applies IT techniques itself to managing the energy infrastructure.

The popularity of energy-saving virtualisation technology is one reason IT is getting involved in energy infrastructure management. Here's why: The use of virtualisation reduces the number of servers needed, decreasing overall energy consumption, but there's now more energy used per server and greater risk to the enterprise if any server fails, since several virtual servers will shut off when the physical server goes.

Suddenly IT finds itself more concerned with increased energy monitoring and cooling at the rack level -- having sufficient juice and cooling in the rack room is not good enough, says Gartner's Cappuccio. That rack-level focus is not an area in which facilities management is experienced.

Server chips from AMD and Intel can trigger automatic alerts when they detect too much heat and even throttle back the chip speed to reduce heat emissions. However, a simple solution like throttling back may not be the answer if those racks are running mission-critical applications during peak business hours. This goes way beyond the room- and building-oriented energy and cooling focus of traditional facilities management, instead requiring systems akin to network management, in which IT has experience.

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