Monday, April 6, 2015

Do You Treat Your Data Center Like You Treat Your Restroom?

You've read the title correctly. Possible toilet humor ahead. You have been warned!

But before you continue on, watch this video first:

Pay careful attention to how happy the customers are who use a Buc-ees gas station restroom.

How many times have you visited a business and needed to use a restroom? I’m assuming we have all had that pleasure or displeasure a few times in our lives. A recent experience I had while at a big box store caused me to pause and think about how a business may treat their restrooms the same way they treat their data centers.

Let’s look at some similarities that restrooms and data centers share:

  • Both have regular customers.
  • Both can become messy and cluttered.
  • Both are viewed as cost centers.
  • Both demand 100% uptime.
  • Both have staffing requirements.

Both Have Regular Customers

Everyone goes to the restroom. From the time you are born to the time you die. It’s a part of life. Just as we perform these private acts during our daily existence, we also visit facilities in a digital sense. We access our file servers, our databases, our web servers regularly that are hosted in our own local data center, or in someone else’s data center. We leave digital deposits, or data in these facilities.

Both Can Become Messy and Cluttered

The customer expects a clean and tidy restroom, one that they feel comfortable using time and again. The customer who does not feel comfortable enough to use the restroom is less likely to engage your business. To infuriate a customer, all it takes is an over-flowing toilet, failed flushes, foul odors, no soap and worst of all no toilet paper. The customer should also expect a clean and tidy data center, both digitally and physically. Take a walk around your data center. Your physical customer should recognize how well your cable management has been implemented, how everything has the proper label, the absence of clutter. They expect reliable entry and use of your data center be it with hosted services, your company website, etc. They also expect to feel safe and secure when using the facilities. Seeing in the toilet bowl what appears to be a NASCARr dirt track doesn’t leave you with a sense of feeling good as you pull in for a pit stop. Same could be said for a data center that is under constant bombardment from successful DDoS attacks that take down their customers websites.

Just as a well kept restroom will always be stocked, clean, properly ventilated and inviting, a business needs to ensure that their data center is also clean, accessible, has sufficient power, fire suppression, properly ventilated / cooled, and secure. Who wants to use facilities that are not?

Both Are Viewed as Cost Centers

Restrooms are rarely profit centers, although regular deposits are made. Just as a business would replenish the toilet paper and hand soap, a data center has to replenish its software licensing, equipment, support & maintenance contracts and even talent from time to time. Ignoring any of these can leave a rather unpleasant experience. Both cost money to operate but they are necessary amenities in our modern world.

Both Demand 100% Up-Time

In our modern society, we have come to expect facilities be available for us to do our business in. I would venture to say that not a single one of you reading this article isn’t within a short distance of the lieu. When nature calls, you expect uninterrupted service while sending that fax to Cleveland or for those in the UK, sending a sausage to the seaside. Nothing worse than getting a DoS error when needing to send a packet. So just as a janitor checks on the restrooms regularly for any defects and other issues, we in IT have to remain vigilant and monitor our data center for possible leaks, hardware & software failures including change management.

Both Have Staffing Requirements

No restroom or data center that I've ever seen is completely un-manned. Both usually have at least one person who is trained to maintain a certain level of accessibility and acceptability. A janitor and a NOC technician aren't all that different. Both play an important part in keeping things running. A janitor's job may seem easy, but it’s not. They have to know how to properly clean different surfaces with the right chemicals and know how to operate and repair dispensers and plumbing. A NOC technician has to understand how to monitor servers and take corrective action before a major problem occurs, create reports and participate in projects. Get the wrong type of person for either job and it can lead to disastrous results. It doesn't just stop at hiring the right person for the job, but it requires ongoing training and review. A janitor may be introduced to a new product that may save them time cleaning and make their job even safer by handling less hazardous chemicals. A NOC technician may receive training on a new OS or piece of hardware that will increase their efficiency in operating the data center. A lot of businesses treat both professions as an after thought or view them as less important than they really are.

So now that we have a few comparisons, which business do you think has happier customers? The dirty, dysfunctional, clogged toilet with no plunger restroom / data center, or the one that is well kept, always ready for deposit with an every 2-hour checkup restroom / data center?

If you take pride in your restrooms, chances are you take pride in every aspect of the company, and that pride should also extend to your data center operations. And chances are, your customers will appreciate it enough that they will talk about their experience, much like those customers of Buc-ees.