Sunday, February 22, 2009

Data Center Energy Management – An Opportunity Too Good to Pass Up

Recently we completed a significant overhaul of our main data center. This in a state-of-the-art building that is less than four years old. Why would such a significant overhaul be needed so soon? Did we not get it right when we designed the facility, or did something beyond our control change afterwards?

The truth is that the answer is probably a bit of each. Largely, however, we were trapped by timing. Our building was nearing completion of the Construction Documentation phase and on a tight schedule when our IT group switched to blade server technology, dramatically changing the data center operating profile. We had two choices; stop and redesign the project or press on and revisit the inefficiencies of our existing design later. Knowing that there was an energy penalty to pay for not delaying we did so anyway because of the greater time and cost penalties associated with pausing construction. When the time came, however, we did it the right way.

Our IT partners shifted to blade servers soon after we occupied the new facility. Server virtualization followed as a second phase, followed in turn by a thorough vetting of the server population to identify and weed out obsolete and unnecessarily redundant applications and servers. Combined, these actions led to a sizeable demand load reduction.

Now it was our turn to maximize the efficiency of infrastructure systems. To do so we implemented hot and cold aisles, installed a suspended ceiling to reduce room volume, improved system redundancy for both electrical and mechanical systems and rebalanced loads across phases. The graphic images of our post-project air dynamics were things of beauty to our eyes, and validation of our success.

Today, we have a steering group of IT and FM managers who routinely monitor infrastructure systems and load metrics, and jointly plan and execute changes in data centers enterprise wide.

That’s our story, but it’s just one. There are hundreds like it out there. The point is that even in older data centers there is much you can do to improve your operations, energy consumption, and efficiency. For a good list of actions to get you started check out Marcus Hassen’s current article at

Monday, February 16, 2009

Never Let A Good Crisis Go to Waste

Leaders who help their organization navigate difficult times know how to turn the difficulty to their advantage. Often times they will create a crisis for the purpose of providing a sense of urgency. Why? Because they understand this: Crisis provides the opportunity to attempt things you would not otherwise be able to attempt. It allows you to speed the transformation process by making large shifts instead of small incremental ones. While solving the crisis you can leverage the effort to include non-crisis elements that may be levers themselves on the crisis or simply “targets of opportunity” that make sense. Without going overboard to the point you dilute the crisis remediation effort, it is possible to accomplish much more than solving just the immediate problem at hand.

A strong sense of urgency, in fact, usually demands bold action. Bold action, in turn, will reduce complacency and increase conflict. Both are natural reactions to a “non-normal” state and both represent further opportunity.

Getting rid of complacency is always a good thing, especially in times of crisis. It is obvious to everyone that “business as usual” won’t get the job done. People are forced out of their normal patterns and become receptive to new ideas. The energy level goes up, thoughts that would never have been spoken become viable options, and everyone’s attention is focused on a common goal.

In this climate tensions will run high and you can expect the level of conflict to increase. If you have good people on your team, people who care and who are invested in success then you should expect them to be at odds at times. Here’s the good side of conflict – it provides the opportunity for frank, honest, and respectful dialog. Conflict is an opportunity. It gives you the chance to treat people with respect and demand the same of them, to be truthful but not hurtful, and to deepen relationship bonds that cause people to commit to others because they trust them. Conflict can be a very good thing when viewed this way. Rush to resolve it too quickly and you lose the chance to use it to advance transformation and organizational trust.

Where I work we have a lot of very smart people. They are all highly educated, open academic debate is part of our culture. Shying away from it is the last thing you want to do. Here’s the interesting part and a key to understanding why conflict can be a good thing. People may disagree with the conclusions you come to and they will test you severely. They will probe, sometimes in not so gentle manner, to test your assumptions, your thought process, the evidence, and the integrity of your research and proposal. In other words, open academic debate, often times very passionate. In the end, however, they will back you completely even if they do not agree with all of your conclusions – as long as they trust your integrity, the integrity of your information, and the integrity of your process. Is that a conflict-free environment? Certainly not. Is it one that engenders open discussion, frank and respectful exchanges, and trust and support? Absolutely.

Good leaders are not afraid to create or take advantage of crisis situations because they have confidence that they can help individuals and the team channel their thoughts, energy, and efforts in a common drive to achieve important goals.

Do you have a crisis at hand? Thank your lucky stars! Then decide how you are going to use it to your advantage and get to it. Because you know, a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Leading In Tough Times Requires Strong Will and Humility

In Good to Great Jim Collins talks about characteristics of leaders who have been successful at moving companies from being simply good at what they do, to being great at it. It strikes me that a couple of the attributes discussed in his research are especially important today. We all know that executive management is noted for sharp focus, attention to detail, and thinking and acting strategically; and we know that many good leaders exhibit a sense of humility that draws others to them. But how, specifically, are strength of will and humility linked, and what is the value of that linkage in today’s environment?

On the one hand, it takes strong will to turn an organization in a new direction, make difficult decisions and see them through, or hold yourself and others accountable. It is this strength of will that allows leaders to press on in the face of long odds, and it is often this strength of will alone which makes eventual success first possible, then plausible.

On the other hand, humility can also be one of a leader’s greatest assets. It is humility that fosters a sense of team and embraces calm and determination. It is humility that enables a leader to view his or her success based on the success of others and allows them to be encouraged, first by the sharing of credit, and later to take the lead on tough issues. Why? Because they feel they can trust their leader.

Strong will and humility – they present an interesting dichotomy. At first glance they appear to be opposites. How can a strong and dynamic leader be humble? The reality is that they are complimentary. Strong leaders, even strong personalities can be humble at the same time, realizing their role is to provide direction, that they are not infallible, that they can learn from others, and that others do much of the work. Leaders who understand this and learn how to maintain a sense of urgency and accountability while sharing the good things that happen when success comes do much to develop a culture of trust and expectation, and nurture emerging leaders within their organization.

These are tough days for a lot of folks. Leaders today have a special responsibility to help envision and motivate, to maintain their focus on excellence, and to be positive and supportive while taking very determined and sometimes tough actions.

Some will tell you that a leader’s highest responsibility is to remove obstacles and work to assure the success of others. This concept of “servant leader” is by no means new, and anyone who has ever experienced it knows that it requires great self assurance. It is that self assurance that allows the two seemingly opposite traits of strength and humility to meld, combining to exhibit leadership that people trust and want to follow.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Is Your FM Technology Really Giving You What You Need?

I don’t know about you, but where I work it seems the technology dragon never takes a break. We spend a lot of effort conceptualizing, socializing, designing, building, deploying and operating various technology and information systems. Our mode is generally to self-develop the applications, allowing us to customize them to a very high level. One advantage is that we have a very rich relationship with our IT cousins. A disadvantage is that we are sometimes held hostage to their resource issues. That said, we’ve done it a lot and generally been very successful at improving services to staff and customer satisfaction.

At the end of the day, these systems are generally about two things; improving process and the customer experience, and being able to pull metrics out of the process that we can use to report and manage the service.

Here are useful questions that we use to evaluate our information needs when considering new technology requirements.

· Are we properly staffed?

· Do we have SLA’s for the service or operation under consideration?

· Are we performing to the SLA?

· Do our SLA’s roll up to the right KPI’s?

· Are we (or the service provider) correctly reporting KPI’s?

· Can customers communicate with us clearly and quickly regarding this service?

· What are they telling us?

· Do we have internal collaboration gaps that affect service quality?

· Do we really trust the metrics we do have? Are we measuring the right things in an accurate and timely manner?

· Do we speak the same language for the same service across functional and location silos?

· Are we totally transparent about the cost of the service?

Asking these questions at the outset of any technology project will always lead to a wider discussion. Sometimes the result is a set of changed assumptions, a scope revision, or even deferring or canceling the project. The intent of the dialog is to test assumptions, help develop consensus, and provide a springboard for the next step.