If you are using a spreadsheet to track your data center equipment inventory, then take a moment and read this post. You might want to consider using something else that can actually track your assets. From where I sit, many IT managers grossly underestimate the efforts in this process.

Imagine your staff is ordering equipment for your data center and it's going right to the storeroom, not just without being deployed, but also without being inventoried. Then it sits there, depreciating in value and collecting dust. This is just one of the horror stories I've heard in the field. The company this happened to ultimately discovered that, in just a six week period, it had accumulated more than $700,000 in depreciation costs for assets that were not being used.

The key thing to remember is that managing is different than documenting. Documenting is gathering the data, and, if the vehicle for this documentation is spreadsheets, that is often where the process stops (if it happened at all). In my experience, even with great spreadsheet records, each time there is a change planned to the data center a comparison of the real infrastructure and the infrastructure records is made, just to be "sure." That is hardly management!

Case in point: one company I spoke with had a smaller data center of about 80 racks. They were keeping records in an MS Access database and were convinced the records were accurate. They were more diligent than most, running monthly checks to ensure the data was correct. However, the checks were being done based on paper printouts of the data, which in theory was updated into the Access database from hand written updates made to the records. When a full audit was performed the team found 63 servers and switches that were not recorded anywhere. So much for accuracy!

Paul Goodison has more than two decades of experience managing major IT projects across the globe and has first-hand experience with the consequences of poorly managed infrastructure in large IT environments. Paul is the CEO of Cormant, makers of the CableSolve Solution.

Here is another: I was recently talking with an IT manager who was having issues with power overloads, to the point where electrical breakers were tripping due to current overload issues. The data center was an older design and had power fed from distribution boards instead of end-of-row power panels. His first step to fix the issue was to commission an auditing and tracking exercise of each power circuit, using spreadsheets to document the information. After approximately $20,000 had been spent on external electricians, and equipment had been moved (at additional internal staff time and some service downtime), the problem was resolved. However, within three months the power problems started again. The new equipment had been deployed and the spreadsheets, having not been maintained, did not reflect the current deployed equipment status, leading to another costly audit.

Here is My Manifesto

Here are the steps you need to be taken to manage your IT infrastructure more efficiently.
  • Start by deciding what data is important to you first. There is no single list and no one-size fits all answer. It all depends on the age, size, scale and equipment in each unique environment.
  • Next, pick a management system that will truly consolidate all the data currently managed in spreadsheets, and the data that should be managed. Strongly consider whether or not the solution requires hardware to be purchased and whether this will add to your problems or lock you into one system.
  • Next, ensure there are real, positive processes in place to keep the data up-to-date; no tool is of any use if it's too much trouble to keep it accurate. Some systems make this easier than others. This is critical, as no tool by itself, no matter how fancy, or whatever the vendor says, is going to solve problems by itself.
  • Then use the data for planning and further change, which means you need to trust your data. Do not fall into the trap of using the tool and still doing a physical audit each time change is required. All of this can be achieved, but it's not easy and there are no magic bullets. Do not believe a vendor that says their system will solve all your problems without process changes; it won't!
Properly managing your infrastructure is critical to avoiding downtime as well as meeting the demands of operational efficiency. If you are cutting your data center short on proper management to conserve money today, it is almost certainly costing you more in the long run, both in resources and downtime. While no two enterprises are ever the same in what they want to manage, the principle that change cannot be managed effectively without accurate consolidated data and a truly effective infrastructure management system applies to everyone.