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Why IT should get in the facilities business

Why IT should get in the facilities business

Energy savings throughout the company can be cut if IT applies its technology know-how to managing facilities

The shift starts in the datacenter

The hot spot for this shift into tech is definitely the datacenter. That is where the business logic for combining IT and facilities management really comes on strong.

Typically, "facilities management" means taking care of the building systems, comfort systems, and power. But facilities management also takes care of the critical energy infrastructure that goes into the datacenter. And that means IT is at least heavily involved with facilities and, in some cases, applies IT techniques itself to managing the energy infrastructure.

The popularity of energy-saving virtualization technology is one reason IT is getting involved in energy infrastructure management. Here's why: The use of virtualization reduces the number of servers needed, decreasing overall energy consumption, but there's now more energy used per server and greater risk to the enterprise if any server fails, since several virtual servers will shut off when the physical server goes.

Suddenly IT finds itself more concerned with increased energy monitoring and cooling at the rack level -- having sufficient juice and cooling in the rack room is not good enough, says Gartner's Cappuccio. That rack-level focus is not an area in which facilities management is experienced.

Server chips from AMD and Intel can trigger automatic alerts when they detect too much heat and even throttle back the chip speed to reduce heat emissions. However, a simple solution like throttling back may not be the answer if those racks are running mission-critical applications during peak business hours. This goes way beyond the room- and building-oriented energy and cooling focus of traditional facilities management, instead requiring systems akin to network management, in which IT has experience.

When the facilities and IT networks are part of a single entity, the unified system will know when peak demand is expected and be able to react better. For example, the policies in such a system could turn on more servers or draw from on-demand resources to better distribute the load, rather than curb performance.

Another area where IT has the experience required for the new energy environment is in asset tracking, says Emerson's Kightlinger. It's not enough to track physical assets, he says; businesses need to also track the power consumption and usage patterns to figure out appropriate load balancing -- the kind of work typically handled through monitoring software IT has long experience with, all managed through a database. "IT managers run that [database]," he says.

But the systems IT has used for monitoring -- such as CA Unicenter, Hewlett-Packard OpenView, and IBM Tivoli -- haven't been designed to understand the implications of energy usage or of business implications of changes, says James White, a product manager at Managed Objects. However, that's beginning to change as "business service management" features -- specifically, ones related to facilities management -- come into the traditional monitoring tools from CA, HP, IBM, and Managed Objects.

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