There’s no escaping the fact that data centres are facing a worsening staffing crisis and a growing challenge to find skilled employees. As many as 50% of data centre managers reported difficulties in finding qualified candidates to fill open roles to the Uptime Institute global data centre survey 2020.
a considerable leap from 41% last year and 38% in 2018. The problem is being fuelled by a straightforward shortage of engineers
in some areas, while in other locations the growth in the number of new data
centres is driving an untenable requirement for staff.
Additionally, of course, operating a 24/7 data centre typically
requires second and third shift work for entry level positions – and that can
be a disincentive for new applicants. Many may decide to opt instead for more
of a 9-5 role within the sector or choose a career in an alternative area of
engineering. Often too, organisations may find that they simply do not have an
available local population with the necessary skills to fulfil data centre jobs
because they are building these data centres in areas that are predominantly
rural, where power is cheaper, or in climates where there is more natural
cooling, but few local people with the skills they require.
All this does not take into account the compounding effects of the
current pandemic. There is likely to be some reluctance to hire data centre
staff that the organisation has not physically sat down with to come into a
data centre environment, especially if that data centre is co-located and
multi-tenancy focused. If management has not met that person face to face,
there may be some reluctance to appoint that person and trust them with the
security of that environment.
Finding staff with the right skills to fill data centre positions
locally is, in other words, very difficult and getting more so. Compounding the
problems for data centre managers, COVID precautions make access to data
centres much more difficult even for existing staff. From the outset of the
pandemic, many organisations restricted access to the data centre to just a few
more senior members of the engineering team.
A tech-based solution
Fortunately, there is a solution available to the current challenge of data centre skills shortages. Technology can play a key role here in easing the problem. The latest Smart Out-of-Band management solutions are designed to give engineers either a secondary connection or a cellular back up connection when the primary access to the network has been lost.
This enables engineers to remotely log into the network using
multiple methods whether it is over their primary WAN connection or their
cellular failover. That means that if they make a change remotely and lose
their primary access, they have a cellular back up, even into serial ports or
Ethernet, that enables them to restore their configuration to regain primary
access or continue operations.
Added to this, VPN tunnels give engineers and engineering teams
that physical premise experience without having to be physically present.
Together, this can provide a secure way to remotely connect to equipment and
manage and restore devices.
NetOps and network automation can help here too, especially as new data centres come on line and ramp up their activity. As part of a concept known as day one provisioning, network engineers can send our pre-configured Smart Out-of-Band console servers with NetOps Automation features to the site.
Instead of sending out a dedicated team to deploy and set up,
engineers can pre-configure the requisite appliances so that when the equipment
arrives on site, it can simply be racked up and connected by a small team of
lower skilled staff. A team of more technically skilled engineers could
then use the cellular connection to bring up those devices remotely; have
connections into them to start pushing out the configurations, updates, user
profiles and access controls. In short, they can provision the whole solution remotely
once it is physically installed.
Remote IP network automation can provide further enhanced
manageability, allowing network engineers to have a single plane of management
to easily and seamlessly access the devices and manage them without having to
be physically on site.
Network automation is advancing today to move away from a
person-to-port model and towards a machine-to-machine configuration, which
allows for auto-response. When an incident occurs, the system can restore or
reconfigure on its own, without requiring somebody to go on site or even to
manually log in and fix the system.
Addressing the data centre skills challenge
All this capability is helping data centres to start hiring remotely located engineers rather than having to confine their search to those located in the vicinity of the site itself. Data centres could have lower level or junior staff on-site 24/7, but they could also have a dedicated resource of skilled remote staff logging into the data centre remotely from wherever they are based. That helps address the data centre skills challenge by expanding the area from which employees can be chosen but it also benefits the organisation more broadly by supporting a ‘follow the sun’ model, whereby different shifts can be brought online as time passes by.
The data centre has access to its preferred engineers at hours
that suit those employees and it has the benefit of running a continuous
service as a result. When allied to the network automation capabilities
referenced earlier, all this also allows the data centre to be more productive
and, in a sense, do more with less – a key benefit especially in the current
Fortunately there is a way forward organisations can take to solve
the data centre staffing crisis by combining Smart Out-of-Band & NetOps
automation technology with the processes that deliver secure remote access.