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FM Versus IT?

15 March 2007

Two recent pieces of original, qualitative research not only uncover the uncertainties and the challenges facing the data centre sector, but also show that these are preying more heavily upon FM personnel than their IT equivalents.

TWO PIECES OF RECENT RESEARCH DEMONSTRATE that facilities managers and IT personnel responsible for data centres think differently about the key market issues. Both pieces of research are based on sample responses and, as such, any projection to the total population of FM or IT personnel can only be made with caution. However, both sets of findings indicate that FM personnel appear more anxious about the issues facing the data centre industry than their IT equivalents. They may have closer views on the day-to-day issues of running major data centre facilities, and possibly the different disciplines of engineering and IT will attract people of different mindsets. Alternatively, IT has not altogether lost its 'ivory tower' status. However, what is concerning is that as the discipline of operating a data centre is facing increasingly turbulent times, there is a need for the gap, which is real and felt between the different specialisms, to be bridged.

The first piece of research was conducted at last November's DatacenterDynamics London which welcomed 700 owners and operators of data centre facilities and 250 representatives of vendor organisations. The numbers attending, exhibiting and presenting reinforced the event's status as one of the largest - if not the largest - gathering of data centre professionals in the world. Those attending were invited to participate in a short survey covering their requirements and opinions of the event, their attitudes towards major industry issues and profiling information.

The overall completed sample includes 234 individuals from 128 'end-user' organisations that own and/or operate data centre facilities and 171 individuals from 122 organisations that supply products and solutions to the sector. The 'end-user' sample includes 104 individuals working in the area of facilities management (from 63 different organisations) and 82 individuals working in the broad area of IT (from 52 organisations).

The FM sub-sample is responsible for around 3,000 individual sites (from major data centres to switching closets). They operate 150 facilities of over 100 racks capacity, and total space of around 450,000sq m. The IT sub-sample is responsible for around 7,500 individual sites, over 200 'major' facilities and total space of
around 350,000sq m.

The second piece of research is the APC Building Emissions Survey 2006 and it was conducted online from February to May 2006. It incorporates the opinions of over 150 higherlevel IT-decision makers including CIO's, IT directors, IT managers and facilities managers. Broadly, this sample comprises roughly equal proportions of FM and IT personnel - 33.5 per cent and 37.3 per cent respectively - with 29.2 per cent working in other areas or unassigned. This survey looked at the current and future concerns of IT and facilities decision-makers, their awareness and knowledge of relevant legislation and their sensitivity towards the wider environmental context.

What differences emerge in these pieces of research between IT and FM personnel? In the DatacenterDynamics London sample, the FM personnel interviewed are likely to be more concerned about the sector. When asked to write in the issues of greatest concern to them, FM personnel displayed a greater range of concerns than IT personnel. Higher proportions admit they are worried by power requirements, the related issue of cooling high-density IT configurations, the inherent unpredictability of the industry and the lack of industry knowledge and expertise available to deal with these issues.

The FM sample also indicates a greater degree of uncertainty about the future of the data centre industry than their IT counterparts. FMs are less likely to believe
....there will some day be such a thing as a 'green' data centre
....that measuring expansion capability is an art not a science
....that IT control over the physical data centre is a good thing
....that the industry should be left to its own devices in regard to power issues
....that they fully understand and can predict what will happen inside their data centre/s.

A similar picture emerges from the 2006 APC Building Emissions Survey. This research is more focused on the specifics of current and proposed building emissions and carbon reduction legislation. FM personnel emerge again as marginally more aware of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, they acknowledge more strongly than their IT counterparts that data facilities have a role in generating emissions and thus in wider climate change, and they are more concerned about their organisation's performance on these issues.

It is particularly striking that while the sample of FM personnel believe (by a factor of 7:5 to 1) that high density IT equipment will add to commercial building emissions, they also agree (by a factor of almost 5 to 1) that the link between carbon emissions has been proven. The equivalent factors among the IT personnel sample falls to around 2:1 on both issues.

It would appear, therefore, from both pieces of research that FM personnel have different environmental sensibilities to IT personnel. Further analysis on the DatacenterDynamics London 2006 research indicates that three major 'attitudinal' groups can be distinguished and defined as follows:

Traditionalists: The largest group whose beliefs tend not to reflect the emerging pressures which will influence the immediate future of the sector. They believe strongly that the data centre industry should be left to get its own house in order rather than relying on external legislation, that there will never be such a thing as a 'green' data centre and that power costs are a more powerful force for change than environmental issues.

Technocrats: They focus on the capabilities of their data centre(s) to the exclusion of other factors. They believe strongly that measuring expansion capability is an art not a science. They are the most confident that they can predict what will happen in their data centre and are looking forward to a data centre that can be run without people going into it. They are, however, also more likely to disagree that the industry should be left to get its own house in order.

Moderates: This third group tends to be less extreme in their attitudes than the other two groups. They are less convinced that data centres should be run without people. They are more likely to believe that measuring expansion capability is a science rather than an art and are less confident that they can predict what will happen in their data centre.

Half of the IT personnel are 'traditionalists', while the FM personnel are more evenly divided between the three groups, and a significantly higher proportion are 'moderates':

In order to allay some of their anxieties, the FM sample shows a greater range of technological and business interests than their IT equivalents. As can be seen in the graph comparing FM and IT personnel interest in issues and technologies (top), from a prompt list of 29 technologies and issues, the FM sample indicated a greater level of interest in all those listed, with the exception of cabling and network security.

....These two research projects were conducted by Spa Communications on behalf of Datacentre Dynamics and APC in the last six months.

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