Roundtable: Challenges Loom for Data Center Staffing

Dec. 18, 2018
The data center industry faces a major staffing challenge. The answer: hire more veterans & women, and boost outreach to schools, DCF Roundtable members say.

Today we continue our Data Center Executive Roundtable, a quarterly feature showcasing the insights of thought leaders on the state of the data center industry, and where it is headed. In today’s discussion, our panel of experienced data center executives – James Leach of RagingWire Data Centers, Randy Rowland of Cyxtera Technologies, Rick Crutchley of Iron Mountain Data Centers and Jeff Klaus of Intel Data Center Software Solutions – discuss the challenges in staffing and talent acquisition for data centers.

The conversation is moderated by Rich Miller, the founder and editor of Data Center Frontier.

Data Center Frontier: As the data center industry continues to grow, finding and developing staff is a challenge. What are the key steps to ensuring quality staffing into the future? What’s the appropriate role of automation (and even AI) in scaling?

RICK CRUTCHLEY of Iron Mountain.

Rick Crutchley: At Iron Mountain we are investing in Women in IT and STEM programs across our markets to address this very challenge. In some US markets, IT unemployment is less than one percent. It is critical that we rebrand IT as a career path for high school and younger students, so that more of today’s brightest minds – male and female – are motivated to consider an alternative to what has been branded as superior options. The industry needs to work more with universities as well to create a clear path to data center careers. We have found excellent candidates from the US military. More can be done to develop post-service career paths in this segment.

As for AI and automation, there is definitely opportunity there, but also risk. Agile colocation resource allocation to customers as they approach their critical limit would allow for seamless growth, reduced downtime and maximum efficiency. It could also help seasonal customers not on usage-based power pricing models spike up for temporary needs and then return back down to normal operating conditions.

However, it could also strain the relationship between colocation provider and customer in the event there are billing disputes caused by the automated increase. As we have seen with public cloud consumption, elasticity can be a budget breaker without the right guard rails in place. Less experienced providers could also run into potential breaker trips / outages with automated power draws spiking past available capacity.

JAMES LEACH, RagingWire Data Centers

James Leach:  Workforce – attracting, developing, and retaining talent – has become a top priority for data center companies. We are seeing the challenge particularly in mission critical operations, highly specialized trades, and in the cyber security and computing systems skills that our data center customers rely on at the foundation of their businesses.

To attract and develop the next generation of data center professionals, we are focusing on building the pipeline of talent. The U.S. Military has been a great source for our 7×24 operations teams. Our veterans, many of whom have served on nuclear submarines, understand the importance of mission critical operations, processes, and accountability. We are partnering more closely than ever with military employment organizations and programs. In addition, we are working with colleges, universities, and especially our community colleges to develop academic programs to build the unique skills required to run and manage a data center.

We’re also learning a lot about how smart software systems can be used to improve overall operations – there is nothing “artificial” about this intelligence. In fact we see AI as “augmented intelligence” that helps our operators make better decisions and execute with fewer errors by collecting, analyzing, and presenting systems performance and environmental data.

RANDY ROWLAND, President of Data Center Services at Cyxtera

Randy Rowland: Operations staff quality and expertise are often key criterion in the selection of a data center provider. Our commitment to innovation has helped us retain our team of highly experienced engineers, many of whom have cultivated strong relationships with customers over years working in the same data center facilities. Automation and machine learning can play a valuable role in many ways.

Using automation, we’re able to optimize energy efficiency by regulating temperature and humidity controls. It can also help improve staff productivity by quickly establishing the root cause of an event, and direct and prioritize recovery activities. Automation and machine learning may even predict events before they occur, enabling staff to take more preventative measures.

JEFF KLAUS, General Manager of Intel Data Center Management Solutions

Jeff Klaus: I see more surveys from data center managers where they value data science skills (especially identifying and analyzing trends) they see extremely valuable in the future.

I think that plays well with other data center opportunities such as automation and security.

NEXT: Data Center Geography: What Are the Hot Markets for 2019?

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About the Author

Rich Miller

I write about the places where the Internet lives, telling the story of data centers and the people who build them. I founded Data Center Knowledge, the data center industry's leading news site. Now I'm exploring the future of cloud computing at Data Center Frontier.

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