Overcoming the challenges of the disjointed data centre

By Martin Hodgson
Martin Hodgson, UK & Ireland Country Manager at Paessler AG, discusses how to unite the potentially disparate elements of the modern data centre

Within the last year, the pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of companies across the globe, making data centres a growing market. According to recent reports, the European data centre market is expected to have a revenue growth of up to 46%  in the next four years.

As the UK looks towards plans to remove lockdown restrictions, many businesses will start to consider the return to work. This can take the form of an attempt to get employees back into the office as soon as possible, embracing a completely remote working style, or figuring out a combination of the two – the hybrid model. Whatever the choice, employees will need to ensure that they can get the data and accessibility they need, wherever they are, whenever they need it. Data centres will play a critical role in ensuring that businesses are able to transition employees into the ‘2021 new normal’ as seamlessly as possible.

So as it stands, the demand for data centres means that there is increasing pressure for them to be run as smoothly and as efficiently as possible. However, in order to ensure the trouble-free operation of a data centre, it is essential to keep a constant eye on a whole range of different components, both in IT and in physical facilities, in order to detect flaws as early as possible and thus avoid problems, damage and breakdowns. But this is not always easy when the data centre is disjointed.

Challenges of managing a data centre

Whether in the cloud, with a hybrid cloud solution or ‘on premises’: in the end, IT takes place on physical computers located in a building – the data centre. The availability and reliability of the applications used here therefore depend on two factors that usually do not have much in common: classic IT, i.e. hardware and software, network and infrastructure on the one hand and facilities on the other.

When broken down into segments we can categorise the data centre function into the following three departments:

  • IT network and infrastructure - Hardware from server racks, computers and storage systems to switches and routers must be monitored as well as data traffic and applications. 
  • Facilities - Power and cooling are essential to data centre operations. Disturbances or even failures cause massive damage; continuous monitoring is essential. 
  • Security - The data centre is doubly at risk – on the IT level: DDos attacks, viruses, Trojans and similar threats; – on the physical level: fire, water and unauthorised intrusion.  

The smooth operation of a data centre involves several challenges that revolve around ensuring that both the physical and non-physical aspects that keep the data centre running are monitored at all times. Regular checks of data centre facilities need to be carried out to ensure that there are no potential hazards. However dispersed teams, multiple monitoring platforms and differences in reporting/communication can leave room for unnecessary  mistakes to occur.

Lost in translation

Both the IT and facilities management departments play a key role in the day-to-day operation of data centres. Everyone needs to be made aware of problems early on to be able to resolve them before bigger issues arise. This is even more of a challenge when hardly any solutions on the market can monitor both IT environments and facilities simultaneously. 

Whilst protocols such as NetFlow, FTP, WMI or http are used in the IT world, communication in facilities is usually based on Modbus TCP or OPC UA, sometimes even as serial communication. Surprisingly enough, only Simple Network Managed Protocol (SNMP) appears in both worlds, whereby the network protocol plays a much more central role in IT than in facilities. A significant number of devices in data centre facilities support SNMP or the possibility of query via defined interfaces. 

This makes it difficult to get a comprehensive overview of the state of the entire data centre, which combines IT and facilities in one dashboard. Even if the teams work closely together or even if the entire responsibility lies with one team: And yet, only a centralised overview ensures that irregularities, malfunctions or failures can be detected, localised and rectified in time before they grow into serious problems.

Data security: online and on-prem

Data centres can be exposed to threats on the IT level from hacks, viruses and trojans as well the physical level from threats such as intruders breaking in, fire outbreaks or floods. Adequate data protection involves digital ‘ring fencing’ to prevent hackers from tampering with data. This should be in conjunction with installing door lock systems to secure the building and setting up alarm systems and alerts in case there is a break in. 

However, restricting access to a certain group of people is not enough. The room itself must also be monitored. This is where cameras, motion sensors or even heat sensors come into play. 

Having both online and physical security measures in place is the first step. Being able to monitor both simply and in a single format is the next step. With working life becoming increasingly reliant on technology, businesses need to ensure that they have an eye on the security protocols set in place at all times, and that they are able to pull reports from one centralised platform as and when it's needed.

The data centre is the heart of a company and its data is the lifeblood. It is therefore crucial for companies to take care of their data centres and to put the appropriate technology and processes in place to protect their most precious asset. Investing in a single, centralised system that speaks the same language across teams can save time, money and reduce the chances of major issues occurring without the wider business being aware.



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