The Great IT/Facilities Divide

The Great IT/Facilities Divide

In his seminal work Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (1992) John Gray discussed the big differences in communication style of men and women and how men think about solving problems while women think about connecting and intimacy. The problem arises when the two have a conversation in which each has a different goal in mind and a different way of communicating about it. Needless to say, the sides not understanding each other could result in a disaster.

Something very similar happens with Facilities and IT folks within the data center infrastructure. Facilities people talk the language of the electromechanical such as power, energy, humidity and temperature while IT people talk the language of the computer field such as bits, bytes, CPU cycles and storage capacity. I recently attended a meeting in which the Facilities manager and the IT manager had a 20+ minute discussion about power efficiency. Each one was sure the other was wrong. However, the Facilities manager was talking about the power loss efficiency aka power factor from a PDU which should have been about ~98% and the IT manager said that efficiency could not be higher than ~50% because he was talking about efficiency at the server power supply. The discussion went on and in the end both agreed to disagree. I just watched in disbelief.

The underlying question is why are Facilities and IT folks so different when it comes down to the divide that exists between the two. The typical data center infrastructure has a Facilities group as well as an IT group and each manage a different aspect of the operation. Let’s look at some of the differences:

Age– Facilities has been around for thousands of years. The first civilizations over 6000 years ago already had buildings to store grain, pray to deities and house people. Such buildings needed constant maintenance and people to take care of the buildings and some, such as The Colosseum, lasted almost 1000 years as a functional building. This was the birth of the Facilities discipline. IT, on the other hand, is no more than 50 years old and the data center infrastructure IT worker has only been around since the 70s in the present capacity.

Personnel– The typical Facilities worker is an expert in the field with Electrical Engineers, HVAC professionals and mechanics. The IT worker is typically more of a generalist with ample knowledge of many subjects such as storage, networking and apps.

Jargon– Facilities talks in volts, amps, watts, BTUs etc. while IT deals in bytes, network cards and OS’s.

There is an underlying reason why the Facilities worker is usually a domain expert in his field and the IT person is a very well informed generalist. It all comes down to refresh rate. Generators, substations and Automatic Transfer Switches do not become obsolete as quickly as your typical rack mounted server. A generator can last 20 years or more allowing the person that manages it to become a domain expert on that generator.

In the next segment, we’ll discuss the priorities that keep alive the divide between Facilities and IT…

By Andrew Sanchez

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