Data centres are under more pressure than ever before. From simply being a room full of servers, they're moved to a point where every component in the space now needs to be monitored. Yet a survey released recently found that data centre managers don't know what's in their data centres -- which suggests that managing them might prove a bit of a challenge.

In a recent survey, the Aperture Research Institute (ARI) reckoned it researched 100 data centre organisations across a range of industries including banking, government, insurance, healthcare, data services, retail, and telecommunications.

The ARI said its survey found that organisations are not adequately documenting the physical layer of the data centre.

In particular:

  • Almost half of organisations (49 percent) said they couldn't track changes across physical aspects of their data centre including space, power and cooling.

  • More than half (54 percent) of respondents have experienced between one and five outages at the physical level.

  • More than half (64 percent) struggled with the quality of configuration information, describing it as average to fair, with a further five percent admitting configuration of information was poor.

And even where they do have information, confidence in its accuracy is low:

  • Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of those surveyed thought that more than 10 percent of their information was incorrect.

  • Only 38 percent of data centre managers believed their configuration information is over 90 percent accurate.

  • Eight percent said they couldn't trust half of their configuration information.

Interestingly, Aperture came up with an explanation for this: the company said that "slow implementation of ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is one reason for inaccurate data."

The reason? It's because "data centre managers admitted to using between three to five different systems to store configuration information, making it difficult to aggregate information onto a single view. Only six percent of data centre managers surveyed use a single system to document everything. Only 29 percent of data centre managers surveyed said their organisations had ITIL initiatives in place."

Yet, as the company admits: "ITIL provides a high level guidance on how to align the IT organisation with the business objectives, and how to establish management processes across the IT organisation that support networks, systems, applications and databases." This hardly sounds like something that's likely to help improve the way that a data centre manager organises information about what's in his or her data centre.

However, the company did make one useful point, which is that knowledge of what's contained in the data centre is becoming increasingly critical. The reason is that you can't plan increasingly important power and cooling systems, and so minimise energy usage, unless you know what's running, why and where it is.

As Steve Yellen, principal of the ARI said: "At a time when high-density equipment is becoming widespread, the availability of power and cooling information in the data centre dictates its absolute limits on capacity. Without reliable configuration information, data centres are increasing the risk of power outages and bad capacity planning."

Sadly, custom and practice in many data centres means that only a few individuals know where everything is, and the information is locked inside their heads. This suggests that the chances of a third party coming along after the resignation of the data centre manager or a merger/acquisition and being able to grasp what each piece of equipment is doing are slim.

And we all know what the response to this situation is: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. After all, no-one in accounts is going to shout at you for leaving their server alone -- at least, that is, until it falls over. Until then, it remains someone else's problem. Or are IT staff immune to the failings of the rest of the human race?