Monday, 6th December 2021
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Data Centre Management - securing the skills required for increasing demand and an evolving workplace

By Darren Watkins, managing director for VIRTUS Data Centres.

The well-publicised skills shortage, where there aren’t enough qualified employees to meet the needs of employers, has engendered a culture where businesses must fight to attract and retain the best talent.

There have been numerous attempts by governments, industries and academics to address the UK skills gap, however, there are important omissions in the discussion. While some areas of expertise - like science, technology and engineering - receive significant attention in the skills debate, data centre professionals are often overlooked.

Historically, the data centre industry has been largely invisible - but as digital transformation thunders on, data centres are finally becoming recognised as the lynchpin for any digital business. With IDC predicting that worldwide data will grow 61 per cent to 175 zettabytes by 2025, how do we make sure that this crucial industry is staffed with the best recruits? And, how do we redress the balance and begin a much-needed discussion around the skills?

A viable career option

I’ve never heard anyone say “I want to be a data centre manager when I leave school”. But when we interviewed a range of data centre managers and their directors for our Data Centre Skills Report, they overwhelmingly reported a high level of job satisfaction.

Respondents told us that the role is challenging and rewarding - that they are responsible for the day to day operations and activities, as well as continuous monitoring and management of data centre sites and equipment - and that the role was changing, expanding and becoming more critical alongside technological advancements.

Many data centre managers also report competitive compensation. Data centre managers in the UK earn anywhere from £50,000 to £140,000 each year, depending on their experience - but it’s not a well-known career, and the awareness issue must be addressed if we are to continue to fuel the industry with skilled recruits.

We must also look at more diverse routes to recruitment. Our interviewees report a lack of workplace diversity in the industry, in particular a significant gender imbalance. Research from the Uptime Institute tells that 25 per cent of managers surveyed have no women among their design, build or operations staff, and another 54 per cent have 10 percent or fewer women on staff. Only five per cent of respondents said women represent 50 percent or more of staff.[1]

As an industry, we need to look further for skilled recruits, and when employees are actually in the job more needs to be done to ensure their importance is recognised. Indeed, it’s the responsibility of the role that attracted many of our interviewees to the career, and, as data continues to grow in scale and in importance, recognising the strategic nature of the role will be increasingly crucial in keeping employees motivated and engaged.

A commitment to developing skills

When it comes to specific data centre management skills, the executives we spoke to asserted that, in the past, having a solid technical background with networking or hardware skills was sufficient to be a successful candidate. However, a shift to cloud computing has meant that data centre managers need to arm themselves with a raft of new knowledge in order to stay relevant in modern data centre environments.

Analytics has become a critical component of data centre management. Every data centre uses analytics as an important component of their overall Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) to maximise operational and energy efficiency - and managers need to be able to analyse the data, derive insights from analytics, and use these insights for better data centre management.

One of the most critical, and yet overlooked skills is the need to be able to define and follow process. In fact, this is a key customer requirement and fundamental customer expectation. Unless Data Centre Managers are meticulous about process, they will be unable to succeed in the role.

Furthermore, security knowledge is becoming increasingly important. Thanks to the DevSecOps movement, IT roles that didn’t traditionally require much expertise in security, like development and IT operations, now increasingly do, and for our interviewees, this extends to the data centre. Denial of service (DoS), theft of confidential information, data alteration, and data loss are some of the most common security problems afflicting data centre environments, and for our respondents it’s being able to quickly respond to these potential issues which make a successful data centre manager.

Therefore, it’s crucial for data centre managers to have the opportunities to develop their skills throughout their career. As data centres become increasingly complex, data centre managers need to evolve beyond the traditional, IT-focused skillset to encompass cross-functional skills and advancements in data centre software.

Research shows that employees are hungry to learn and that opportunities for growth are a key driver for staff retention and engagement. Organisations have a real opportunity to foster a more engaged, loyal and productive workforce through a commitment to training and learning. To do this, companies must listen harder to what their employees want, ensure that training meets real and relevant needs, and are more collaborative and flexible in how learning is delivered.

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The role of data centre manager offers varied, interesting and evolving opportunities - and there is a need for businesses to focus on recruiting the most talented candidates for this mission critical job function. Furthermore, as an industry, we have a responsibility to build public awareness of the employment opportunities in this arena, make sure that the data centre is front and centre of the skills debate, and demonstrate to businesses why it’s important to attract and retain staff in this critical role.

By Adrian Davey, IT strategy consultant to Agilisys.
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