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STC Data Centre Manager on industry challenges, trends and highlights

STC Data Centre Manager on industry challenges, trends and highlights

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Rizwan Mohammed is the Data Centre Manager at Saudi Telecom Company (STC) in the Managed Services Data Centre division, responsible for the day to day operations of STC’s Uptime Institute Tier III rated data centres. He provides insight into the role and outlines some key industry talking points.

In his role as Data Centre Manager at STC, Rizwan Mohammed oversees the management of data centre capacity, security and reporting, working with key stakeholders in infrastructure, data centre migration, remediation, relocation projects and internal/external audits.

He is also responsible for managing and directing all design, QA/QC and 24/7 operations staff, as well as maintaining effective professional relationships with STC’s ICT, telecommunications and facilities’ teams.

We spoke to Mohammed to find out more about his career journey to date, as well as some of the key issues in the data centre and infrastructure sector.

What prompted your interest in a career in the data centre sector?

I started in information technology as an IT technician for a real estate organisation before moving into a backup administration role and then went into a data centre operations role with a leading petrochemical company. This is when my interest amplified towards data centres and where I realised that data centres are the most critical part – ‘the heart’ – of any business.

I realised data centres would be a key future talking point as we were fast moving towards new technologies and digitalisation. I embarked on a learning curve to understand more about data centres – and find I am still learning.

What are the biggest current challenges for data centre/infrastructure managers and how are you addressing these?

Biggest challenges:

1) Power density of the new equipment coming down the track. Data centre power/cooling densities are still quite low compared to the chassis servers that are being implemented currently and in the future. Hence the global interest in three phase power at the rack level and liquid cooling technologies for server equipment.

2) Efficiencies in the data centre. Legacy and traditional data centres are quite inefficient in their ability to cool the current and future generations of equipment. Different manufacturers have various solutions including containment, in row cooling and in rack cooling solutions to try to keep pace.

3) Modularity and phased deployment. Data centres are the most expensive building that a company can build, so being able to phase in power and capacity as required is a challenge.

How would you describe your management style?

I would describe it as a mix of consultative and persuasive as I consult with the team to understand their best interests while always focusing on the business objectives and applying industry best practices and standards.

How much of a consideration is maintaining good cyberhygiene?

STC has a cybersecurity department, so high on the agenda is maintaining sufficient controls, as well as training and monitoring to ensure robust security operations. As part of my role, I ensure that our department follows the process strictly and rigidly on physical access to our data centres.

How is the IT shortage affecting you and how do you think the overall issue can be addressed?

The industry is experiencing the shortage of personnel as data centre demands have increased around the world. It can be addressed by multiple steps like publishing more awareness of data centres’ growth rates, running more interim training and also by presenting new academic bachelor’s degree programmes specialised for data centres.

What best practice advice would you give to CIOs and data centre managers when assessing which solutions are best for their organisation/business?

The same advice applies to whether you are talking about IT infrastructure or data centre infrastructure:

1) Have a clearly defined architecture, from the ground up

2) Work within the standards, learn from other people’s mistakes

3) Align the data centre strategy with the business strategy. The data centre supports the business in its operations, so don’t over configure, nor under configure systems/infrastructure. This applies to the capacity of the data centre, the tier level or rating

4) Use outsourcing if applicable

How should data centre managers/CIOs approach the modernisation of data centres?

If the data centre architecture and the strategy is in place, then ‘modernisation’ is just aligning it to the business requirements for the facility.

The data centre’s prime drivers are power, cooling and space. Modernisation may include:

  1. Driving more efficiency into the cooling facilities (containment, supplemental cooling to free stranded capacity)
  2. More power to facilitate ‘engineered solutions’ or high-density storage
  3. More space to expand the capabilities (modular DCs)
  4. Securing the existing facilities (physically and/or operationally)

Can you give an overview of your typical day in the office?

While on my way to the office I’ll screen the data centre outside the compound wall, looking at the parking of cars, whether the electric gates are closed/open and checking security guards are available while entering the security turnstile gate. Then I’ll head to the office via the reception area and the operations control room to check the availability of operators.  

Then I’ll start to read and reply to emails, sorting out the work as per criticality. I’ll check multiple reports, responding with appreciation or recommended improvements.

Then I’ll call each data centre operation room and speak to the team about how they are doing before taking coffee with my data centre consultant.

On the first day of the week I usually have multiple meetings on the various aspects of data centre operations, discussing all ongoing projects and updates on individually assigned tasks.

Lastly, I’ll screen the data halls during a walk around to ensure that all work is performed as per the documented processes

What will the data centre of the future look like?

The data centre of the future will probably be a modular style – most will have prefabricated electromechanical systems (e.g. gensets, power switch gear, UPS facilities), which will enable phased deployment (without affecting running systems).

It will need to support varying equipment densities up to 40-60 Kw per rack (as required) and will probably need to support both liquid and air-based cooling for deployed equipment. Extensive use of free air cooling (as the local environment) allows much more flexibility in fit out.

What advice would you give to aspiring data centre managers?

Understanding the change and diversity of the DATACOM equipment – what is driving change in the data centre area is key to seeing what the future will hold. You need to be ahead of the curve with respect to data centre technology and looking at the current and future trends. This includes anything from copper and fibre standards and futures, power generation technologies (e.g. Rotary UPS, modular gensets) and other more flexible technology (e.g. three phase Rack PDUs) possibly data centre power.

Any other areas of interest/best practice guidance you would like to share with other data centre professionals?

Data centre professionals need to understand IT/telecommunications equipment and infrastructure, future directions market trends/forces shaping this infrastructure. At the same time, they need to understand electromechanical systems at a reasonably detailed technical level, again with reference to current and future trends in these areas.

Data centre professionals must be able to talk to IT and telecommunications designers and architects, turn their requirements into ‘physical requirements on the ground’ and communicate this to electrical and HVAC engineers. Then you have to understand the operational impacts. Maybe then you are halfway there.

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