Symantec survey paints bleak image of data centre

Symantec released a data centre survey this week that revealed that many Canadian data centre administrators are suffering from the skills shortage, increasing complexity in the data centre, and growing pains associated with virtualization and consolidation.

Eight-hundred respondents from enterprise-level organizations responded, with Canadians comprising 34 per cent of the total. The survey found that the main issues that data centre denizens are facing include rising costs, tough service-level agreements, staffing problems, and increasing complexity.

When it comes to cost, even though the survey found that IT usually dedicates about two-thirds of its budget to the data centre, “most of the budget goes toward just keeping the lights on,” said Sean Derrington, Symantec’s director of storage management. The survey also found that 69 per cent stated that their expenditures were increasing five per cent every year, while 11 per cent report growth of 20 per cent per year.

While both consolidation and virtualization are being considered by around 90 per cent of respondents, only around half had actually implemented these solutions (citing a lack of robustness), and primarily in non-mission-critical areas. Derrington attributed this to the fact that virtualization feels “too new” and can present a management challenge to those unfamiliar with the technology.

The survey found, for instance, that Canadian data centre administrators said that, “If performance dropped, they would have a hard time identifying the root of the problem. They noted that this is not the case with traditional approaches, where they can quickly isolate a problem and determine that it’s related to not enough memory or poor I/O,” Derrington said.

Other issues cited as inhibitors to virtualization implementation included investment in large servers and a lack of data recovery tools.

Said Derrington: “People want better use of their hardware. Through automation and training, they can have better operational efficiency.” He suggested that businesses should move towards a software infrastructure model where virtualization enables the use of multiple platforms and applications (rather than being forced to use a single vendor’s set-up), and workers who are trained to work on these multiple platforms. “This would result in a more competitive procurement process and better operations if people can complete tasks on multiple platforms,” he said.

Staffing is a real challenge, though, according to the survey, which found that 52 per cent cited themselves as being understaffed. The skills shortage has hit the data centre market hard, it seems, as the survey reports that data centres have a difficult time finding (86 per cent) and retaining (54 per cent) skilled data centre administrators.

The problem of filling these positions is especially severe in Canada, said Derrington.

This issue is made worse by the increasing complexity of the data centre, according to the survey. According to the survey, “Several managers said the amount of knowledge that staffers need to run a data center today has gone up ‘astronomically’ in the last five years, and they expect that to increase even further in the next five years.” Derrington said that this, along with increasing data retention/protection government regulations, will compound the complexity (and thus the hiring challenge, too) faced by administrators.

Automation of processes in the data centre could alleviate some of the workloads, although respondents haven’t fully embraced the practice yet. This has to do with the fact that many corporations haven’t documented their network workflows well enough yet to automate them well, said Derrington.

All of these factors result in service-level agreements (SLA) getting increasingly difficult to meet. Fifty-one per cent of the respondents hadn’t met their agreements in two years. “They have to do more with less,” said Derrington. In spite of these struggles, 85 per cent of companies’ service level expectations have continued to rise over the last two years, said the survey.

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