Why IT should get in the facilities business

Energy savings throughout the company can be cut if IT applies its technology know-how to managing facilities

Picture in your mind the facilities management guy or gal in your building: Are you envisioning someone in a pair of overalls and a screwdriver tucked in the back pocket?

If so, who are you going to call when the rack density in the datacenter increases from 2 to 3 kilowatts per rack to 12 kW per rack thanks to IT technologies like virtualization and server consolidation?

If your facilities manager is the screwdriver-in-the-pocket type, don't be surprised when you're told, "You better shut some of these contraptions down!"

[ Green is not enough. IT's emerging challenge is to help businesses reduce energy usage as prices rise. Find out how IT can lead the charge in InfoWorld's special report. ]

Due to the realities of rising energy costs and new energy management systems, the traditional facilities manager is morphing into a tech-savvier operations role, one that is pushing both IT managers and facilities managers into a more consultative relationship. In some cases, facilities management is becoming part of IT.

At a recent Datacenter Users' Group meeting sponsored by Emerson Network Power, 62 percent of the 230 industry experts from Fortune 1000 companies said that collaboration between IT and facilities management has increased over the last 12 months.

Matt Kightlinger, director of solutions at Emerson, believes that driving this convergence is the need for energy efficiency to lead to lower costs. "It is forcing IT and [facilities management] to increase efficiencies from an operations perspective," he says.

But there's been a historic disconnect between IT and facilities, with each making decisions in isolation. "IT buys on performance from IT vendors, so they never get the actual [energy] bill at the end of the month," says David Cappuccio, a Gartner analyst. But the high cost of energy is pushing the two groups together. When the CFO asks IT and facilities about the IT energy budget, each side says the other department is responsible, and that's not an acceptable answer. "Suddenly, both sides are realizing that to create a more efficient infrastructure based on energy, they need to cooperate," he says.

The shift starts in the datacenter
The hot spot for this shift into tech is definitely the datacenter. That is where the business logic for combining IT and facilities management really comes on strong.

Typically, "facilities management" means taking care of the building systems, comfort systems, and power. But facilities management also takes care of the critical energy infrastructure that goes into the datacenter. And that means IT is at least heavily involved with facilities and, in some cases, applies IT techniques itself to managing the energy infrastructure.

The popularity of energy-saving virtualization technology is one reason IT is getting involved in energy infrastructure management. Here's why: The use of virtualization reduces the number of servers needed, decreasing overall energy consumption, but there's now more energy used per server and greater risk to the enterprise if any server fails, since several virtual servers will shut off when the physical server goes.

Suddenly IT finds itself more concerned with increased energy monitoring and cooling at the rack level -- having sufficient juice and cooling in the rack room is not good enough, says Gartner's Cappuccio. That rack-level focus is not an area in which facilities management is experienced.

Server chips from AMD and Intel can trigger automatic alerts when they detect too much heat and even throttle back the chip speed to reduce heat emissions. However, a simple solution like throttling back may not be the answer if those racks are running mission-critical applications during peak business hours. This goes way beyond the room- and building-oriented energy and cooling focus of traditional facilities management, instead requiring systems akin to network management, in which IT has experience.

When the facilities and IT networks are part of a single entity, the unified system will know when peak demand is expected and be able to react better. For example, the policies in such a system could turn on more servers or draw from on-demand resources to better distribute the load, rather than curb performance.

Another area where IT has the experience required for the new energy environment is in asset tracking, says Emerson's Kightlinger. It's not enough to track physical assets, he says; businesses need to also track the power consumption and usage patterns to figure out appropriate load balancing -- the kind of work typically handled through monitoring software IT has long experience with, all managed through a database. "IT managers run that [database]," he says.

But the systems IT has used for monitoring -- such as CA Unicenter, Hewlett-Packard OpenView, and IBM Tivoli -- haven't been designed to understand the implications of energy usage or of business implications of changes, says James White, a product manager at Managed Objects. However, that's beginning to change as "business service management" features -- specifically, ones related to facilities management -- come into the traditional monitoring tools from CA, HP, IBM, and Managed Objects.

The intertwining of IT and facilities outside the datacenter
The focus of cooperation and even convergence between facilities and IT in the datacenter is driven by ensuring business efficiency and continuity. But outside the datacenter, there's a simpler motivation: cost savings.

Traditionally, HVAC systems are overengineered, so there's redundancy and future capacity built in. That translates to extra ducts and greater cooling or heating capacity than needed -- a reasonable approach because it's been cheaper to allow such waste in return for not requiring major, expensive rework when your demands grew over time. But with ever-increasing energy costs, that approach no longer works well.

Today, IT has the ability to analyze data on energy usage, work patterns, and other facilities domains to reduce the need for such overengineering, thus lowering costs, says Tom Debin, CEO of Equity Through Energy, a building automation supplier. For example, analysis can tell you how many kilowatts are being used per square foot in a building, helping planners decide whether or not to close or renovate the facility.

Or take the case of something as simple as a water heating system in a restaurant. The designer will design for maximum flow on the maximum day with 100 percent use and then put a fudge factor of 25 percent after he gets it printed out and goes to the plumber. The plumber thinks, "I don't want to be called for a repair later, so I will buy the next model up," adding another 25 percent. So by the time it gets to the job site and the customer has a say, you may have a water heater that costs more in both material and energy costs than is justifiable by the actual demand. "Bigger isn't better," says Debin.

The benefits of analysis-based energy management include lower costs for energy, decreased equipment maintenance costs, a reduced carbon footprint, consistency across the real estate portfolio, and increased effectiveness and decreased cost of the extended enterprise, says Dan Sharplin, CEO at Site Controls, a building automation supplier.

"Intelligent" building automation systems that control power usage based on actual consumption and building designs that are less overengineered both bring challenges when deployed, says James Jones, product manager at Infor, an enterprise asset management vendor.

First, managing these systems requires the pervasive use of sensors that are networked together. It is IT that must manage the network and the data it generates. "IT takes responsibility for information systems that get installed at the site," says Jones. "While the guy you want to fix the boiler needs to be a journeyman technician, a lot of times what you are dealing with or alerted about is a condition coming from an information system. So does IT own that?" Whether or not IT owns it, "IT needs to be able to run with it even if someone else installs it," he adds.

Second, IT needs to be able to understand and intelligently act on the data that the building automation systems generate. IT's role doesn't stop at ensuring the system is running as planned, but extends to helping identify new, better ways to reduce waste and increase efficiency. "The key is having the data available to the extended enterprise in an actionable format," says Site Control's Sharplin.