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Who wanted to be a data centre manager when they grew up?

As the conversation around the skills gap continues, Darren Watkins, managing director for VIRTUS Data Centres, discusses how the industry needs to get the wider world excited about working in the data centre space. 

The answer is no one. But it’s a worrying response and something we, as an industry, need to address if we are to keep pace with digital transformation. As all things digital continue to develop and become increasingly integral to our daily lives, we need to ensure the underlying infrastructure is managed and maintained if we are to continue to benefit from new technologies and innovations. This means that data centres, and those who work in them, are critical to success.

Historically, the data centre industry has been largely invisible – but in today’s digital world, where IDC predicts that worldwide data will grow 61% to 175 zettabytes by 2025, data centres are finally becoming recognised as being the lynchpin for any digital business.

For too long, the industry has not been good at building public awareness of the employment opportunities in this arena. Indeed, as the urgency of the current skills shortage takes hold, the data centre industry is notably absent from the debate. The need for skilled personnel grows more pressing, but businesses are struggling to find them, and aren’t doing enough about it.

How can we make sure that this crucial industry is staffed with the best recruits? And, how do we redress the balance and begin a much-needed discussion around the skills needed?

Why become a data centre manager?

This summer, VIRTUS Data Centres embarked on a series of consultations with data centre managers and their directors, developing an instructional report which seeks to provide solid guidance to businesses on how to attract and retain recruits into this crucial role.

Respondents confirmed that it’s not a well-known, or sought-after career, despite many data centre managers reporting competitive compensation. Data centre managers in the UK earn anywhere from £50,000 to £140,000 each year, depending on their experience – but this hasn’t helped attract more people into the role. This awareness issue must be addressed if we are to continue to fuel the industry with skilled recruits to cope with the demand of physical data centres.

Respondents also told us that the role is challenging and rewarding – they are responsible for the day to day operations and activities as well as continuous monitoring and management of data centre sites and equipment – and that the role was changing and expanding alongside technological advancements.

In order to build awareness, respondents said that routes to recruitment must vary. For example, interviewees report a lack of workplace diversity in the industry, and in particular a significant gender imbalance. Plenty has been written about the problems regarding diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, but despite all sincere efforts to fix these issues, it remains a significant issue for the staff we talked to.

Research from the Uptime Institute tells that 25% of managers surveyed have no women among their design, build or operations staff, and another 54% have 10% or fewer women on staff. Only 5% of respondents said women represent 50% or more of staff.

It follows that we need to look further afield for skilled recruits, and when employees are actually in the job, more needs to be done to ensure their importance is recognised. Indeed, it’s the responsibility of the role that attracted many of our interviewees to the career, and, as data continues to grow in scale and in importance, recognising the strategic nature of the role will be increasingly crucial in keeping employees motivated and engaged.

What skills are needed?

When it comes to specific data centre management skills, the executives we spoke to asserted that, in the past, having a solid technical background with networking or hardware skills was sufficient to be a successful candidate. However, a shift to cloud computing has meant that data centre managers need to arm themselves with a raft of new knowledge in order to stay relevant in modern data centre environments.

As the industry changes, a set of new skills, particularly around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data, are required – but these skills may not exist in the legacy workforce.

Big data has meant that analytics has become a critical component of data centre management. Every data centre uses analytics as an important component of their overall Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) to maximise operational and energy efficiency – and managers need to be able to analyse the data, derive insights from analytics, and use these insights for better data centre management.

One of the most critical, and yet overlooked skills is the ability to define and follow process. In fact, this is a key customer requirement and fundamental customer expectation. Unless data centre managers are meticulous about process, they will be unable to succeed in the role. This is perhaps why current candidates report that they’ve come from industries where process is critical – such as finance or architecture.

As data centres become increasingly complex, data centre managers need to evolve beyond the traditional, IT-focused skillset to encompass cross-functional skills and advancements in data centre software.

The role of data centre manager offers varied, interesting and evolving opportunities and there is a need for businesses to focus on recruiting the most talented candidates for this mission critical job function. As an industry, we have a responsibility to build public awareness of the employment opportunities in this arena, make sure that the data centre is front and centre of the skills debate, and demonstrate to businesses why it’s important to attract and retain staff in this critical role.

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