Cool career opportunity: Data center architect

The data centre architect is now in line for IT's top spot

Are you a go-getter who has experience managing servers, storage, security and facilities, and wants to get into the next big thing? If so, you just might be the perfect person for a role that is growing exponentially in importance: data centre architect.

Many companies' data centre responsibilities are broken out piecemeal, but experts say that companies embracing New Data Center technologies, such as blade servers, grid computing and virtualization, will succeed by consolidating the management of all critical functions into a single role. Using these advanced technologies begs for someone capable of bringing an integrated, holistic approach to data centre architecture and design, says Johna Till Johnson, Network World columnist and co-founder of Nemertes Research.

For a data center to be secure, its architect must factor in facilities design and architecture, Johnson says. Likewise, to create a sturdy server and storage architecture, the architect must plan for manageability and operations. By placing all such responsibilities under the purview of a single person, the company gains strength in long-range planning and short-range execution. On the other hand, Johnson says in her "New Data Center Strategies" newsletter, companies that don't risk failure.

Len Eckhaus, founder of AFCOM, a data center management group with 3,000 member organizations, agrees. "Years ago, a data center architect simply ran jobs and processed payroll. It was an entry-level position. Today there is so much complex equipment with specific security, space, power and cooling requirements that you need someone who can manage not only the equipment but the whole data center environment," he says.

Where it's at

IT professionals who are well-versed in server, storage and security technologies can advance their careers by adding heating and cooling, power and other facilities management expertise to their resume, Eckhaus says. Those who do may even find themselves within spitting distance of such executive-level positions as CIO and CTO, he says.

"The data centre is where it's at today. There's a huge awareness among corporate executives of the critical nature of the data centre, therefore the data centre architect is now in line for IT's top spot," Eckhaus says.

This rise in importance comes from the momentum within the data center industry, Eckhaus says. More than 70% of AFCOM members say they are moving their data centres, building new ones or expanding their facilities within the next five to 10 years, he says.

In addition, such New Data Center technologies as Power over Ethernet, blade servers, grid computing and virtualization have had a tremendous impact on data centre capacity planning, Eckhaus says.

David May, asset and data center manager at H.E. Butt Grocery Co. in San Antonio, Texas, deals with these issues firsthand. As data center architect for the US$11 billion company, which has 60,000 employees and 300 stores in Texas and Mexico, he oversees not only the servers, storage and network but also the security, power and cooling for the data center.

This holistic view is necessary because of the critical nature of the data center: "It can't be treated like any other building because it's not," May says.

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