Companies are facing increasing difficulty in their efforts to find qualified data centre managers, since the required skills have expanded beyond IT expertise to a mix of IT, facilities and security management abilities.

“Traditionally, data centre managers did focus on IT,” said Jill Eckhaus, CEO of AFCOM, a US-based professional association for data centre managers.

“Today, they do so much more,” she said. “With companies running out of data centre space and encountering power and cooling issues, it’s extremely important for data centre leaders to be educated in other areas, such as facilities.”

Eckhaus said last week that AFCOM estimates that “by 2015, the talent pool of qualified senior-level technical and management data centre professionals will shrink by 45 percent.”

She noted that an AFCOM survey completed last year found that nearly 40 percent of its members reported having unfilled data centre positions, and that 15 percent said “it takes them six months or longer to fill open senior-level technical or management positions.”

Neal Smith, data centre manager for core services at Intel’s Oregon data centre operations, said the results are not surprising.

“The data centre is where everything comes together — networking, facilities, business units, security and storage,” he said. “You have to understand all these moving parts.”

In addition, the mounting pressures of compliance with regulatory mandates, energy constraints and finding locations for expansion are often falling on the data centre manager’s shoulders, Smith noted.

“Senior management will not stand for finger-pointing between facilities and systems,” said John Oyhagaray, vice president of programs at 7x24 Exchange International in New York, a knowledge exchange for those who design, build, use and maintain information infrastructures. “There is no room for a segregation mind-set. In the data centre, everyone is responsible for system uptime.

“The best thing an IT manager can do is to learn a little something in each of the areas they know nothing about and develop a base knowledge,” he added.

For example, Smith said that power concerns and the move toward eco-friendly computing makes some knowledge of electrical systems and heating, ventilation and air conditioning a must for data centre workers.

“The density of computing has gone up tremendously because of technologies like blade servers,” Smith said. “That has all sorts of implications on your overall data centre power and cooling.”

Smith noted that he has gained knowledge of facilities chores by working with experts during his 15 years on the job. “I’d buddy up with the facilities team; that’s where I gained most of my knowledge,” he said.

Tim Mills, data centre manager at Cardinal Health, said he learned facilities skills during a recent data centre upgrade from a Tier 1 electrical architecture with many single points of failure to a Tier 4 dual-bus infrastructure.

“While I don’t have to understand the details, I do have to understand the major components and know how to react if we have an issue,” he said.

Doug Lauterbach, data centre director at BayCare Health System, suggested that data centre managers should also learn process management skills, which will become very important as companies turn to utility computing.

Lauterbach also believes that data centre managers should study up on eco-friendly computing. “We have extreme environmental pressures, and I have had to educate myself on what it means to be a ‘green’ data centre,” he noted. “I’m trying to lower the ceiling of power consumption.”

Gittlen is a freelance writer near Boston.