by Michael Bullock

Chasm Between IT and Facilities is Growing

Jan 28, 2010
Data Center

Think IT and facilities operating in silos is last year’s problem? Wrong. In the real world, it's getting worse.

Last year I wrote Four Reasons to Get Facilities and IT on the Same Page. At the time, I was surprised by how little IT leaders knew about their real data center costs, and I suggested that these leaders would do well to talk to their facilities people to understand better where their money was going. I even showed how IT could help facilities by understanding their problems. Since collaboration between IT and facilities can provide immediate financial benefits to the enterprise without layoffs or the risk of IT outages, there’s a lot in it for both groups to work together.

At least one would think.

But when I bring the subject up, especially with the press, I find that most believe the problem has already been solved.  “IT and facilities operating in silos is last year’s problem, right?”  Wrong.  When I work with real world customers, I realize that the situation is bad and maybe even getting worse.

Why is there this disconnect between perception and reality? Perhaps it’s because when the press looks for a story, it needs real-life case studies to make the story compelling and believable.  And, of course, it is possible to find companies where, in fact, facilities and IT are on the same page. Naturally, they’re willing to go public with their stories.  But nobody is all that interested in going on record to talk about how they’ve made mistakes, how IT and facilities don’t work together, or how they’re pouring money down the drain by having both IT and facilities operate in a vacuum.

Don’t believe there’s still a problem?  Here are some real life examples illustrating what can go wrong when facilities and IT don’t collaborate:

• I saw a company purchase a building because it looked like an attractive value and, as a bonus, it already had a data center the company thought it could use.  Because the facilities group knew IT needed a new data center, it followed the realtor’s recommendation and purchased the building at a bargain.  After learning that their new data center would require an additional $17 million in upgrades to make it usable for IT, plus another $500,000 a month in WAN charges, the company decided a collocation alternative would be a better approach.  In the end, the company avoided that $17 million upgrade but it also ended up with a building it didn’t really need. This could have been avoided with closer collaboration between facilities and IT.

• I recently visited a 9,000 square foot data center where something was amiss.  IT had requested Tier 3 level (N+1) redundancy so the facility would be concurrently maintainable. Facilities actually delivered what they believed to be a full Tier 4 environment (2N) with no single point of failure.  Besides costing the company over $500,000 more than it should have, the center actually did have a single point of failure, meaning it wasn’t even a Tier 3 data center.  Another investment of $150,000 was required to correct the problem. 

• I’ve recently seen over 100 cabinets at one location ejecting hot exhaust right into the intake of other systems.  Besides subjecting these systems to the risk of premature failure, this made it necessary to run the data center much cooler than it needed to be just to head off cooling-related problems. This unnecessarily raised the PUE, resulting in an electric bill that was 30 percent higher than it needed to be. By now everyone knows about hot aisle-cold aisle alignment, but many legacy data centers—such as this one—haven’t been reconfigured to take advantage of efficiency improvements like that just because IT and facilities are not communicating and are instead holing up silently in their respective silos. 

I have other stories like this; I see them every day.

Let’s face it. Facilities typically reports to the CFO’s office and IT typically reports to the CIO and when the CFO and CIO get together they have better things to do than discuss PUE, power density, cooling, ultrasonic humidification and data center tier ratings (although I’m sure they have a chat or two about budgets).

CFOs and CIOs expect their respective teams to do the right thing. We all understand that.  But maybe these teams need some top-down guidance to help get them moving in the right direction, together.

So I open this blog up to learn about your own experiences with IT and facilities.  Have you had any great successes or horror stories you’d like to share?

As always, I welcome feedback, questions and comments.  And if you know of other companies effectively enabling cloud computing with an impact on the enterprise you believe similar to those listed above, I’d be interested in learning more. You may reach me at  

Michael Bullock is the founder and CEO of Transitional Data Services (TDS), a Boston, MA-based consulting firm focusing on green data centers, data center consolidation / relocation, enterprise applications and technical operations.  Prior to founding TDS, Bullock held executive leadership positions at Student Advantage, CMGI and Renaissance Worldwide.