“I'm not gonna use any customer names today. But there are customers out there that still operate their data centers on a clipboard with pencil and paper or, potentially, an Excel spreadsheet.”

That was the admission of Tony DeSpirito, a vice president at facilities management company BGIS, which manages more than 30,000 facilities worldwide, including multiple data centers.

DeSpirito was talking at DCD’s recent DCD>Building at Scale event.

– Pavlofox, Pixabay

While not exactly an optimal process for data center management during normal times, with the onset of the pandemic last year it posed particular problems for some operators.

“All of a sudden, onsite staff became fully remote staff, and this happened almost overnight. So now the question was, what if everybody’s remote? How do you do remote maintenance? How do you remotely triage systems that may not be performing to expectations? What about all the changes that need to be made in the data center environment via the white space?” asked DeSpirito.

He continued: “Slowly, as we got into this, we realised that you can’t put off preventative maintenance forever. You can’t put off moves or changes forever; you have to take some action.”

Hence, as data center operators could scarcely turn everything off and put staff on furlough – quite the opposite – they had to adapt to the situation as best they could.

And yet, with the regulations implemented to combat the spread of Covid-19, one positive test could wreak havoc among staff and the 24/7 operation of a facility like a data center.

“If you’re running a seven by 24 operation with three shifts, there’s always some overlap at change over, and a change over checklist that staff need to run through. How do you do that so that everything is contactless?” said DeSpirito. That requires new processes and procedures – and not just for shift changeovers, but for a long list of normal activities.

Organizations with pen and paper-based processes no doubt endured the steepest learning curve over the past year.

“With everybody leaving the data center and all of the work, initially, being done remotely, you need to really ramp up your use of remote collaboration tools… I went from using my cell phone every day to doing almost everything exclusively over Microsoft Teams. Our folks on-site started to use remote collaboration tools just to coordinate the work that needed to be done,” said DeSpirito.

Data center management (DCM) systems also proved invaluable, not just for remote monitoring, but also remote management. BGIS, he added, has a remote ‘command center’ where it is able to monitor and manage multiple buildings and data centers around the world, conducting remote triage, where necessary, and even taking pre-emptive maintenance in some instances.

Organizations without their own James Bond-style remote command centers nevertheless do need to re-assess their procedures and make sure their operating processes have been fully digitized, said DeSpirito.

“If you haven’t digitized your processes yet, do it now; absolutely right now… what if you can’t get access to the room with the clipboard or the binder with the procedure, what are you going to do? Everything must be digitized… It’s clear that remote operations are here to stay.”

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