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How To Staff Your Data Center

Although 1547 is primarily a design-build and reseller, we do staff a NOC at our wholesale colocation facilities in Orangeburg, NY and Kapolei, HI. Whether you’re leasing data center space, launching a new facility, or adding or replacing staff at an existing data center, finding the right mix of skills can be difficult. Data center staff has to be technically capable, with different specialties depending on their role in facilities or system administration, and also trained in customer service skills.

Your data center staff will directly influence availability, efficiency, and recovery from outages and disasters. Obviously, you want to avoid human error when dealing with thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

Operational goals will determine your staffing decisions. In 1547’s case, we need Tier III availability at a minimum, so regular work week and single day shifts are out of the question. Even with concurrently maintainable systems, we require 24/7 staffing in the case of emergencies and also to assist with customer support.

Planning Data Center Staff Departments

Teams of 5-10 are generally a good place to start, with additional teams added as demand requires. For example, if you provide services to other companies,  including managed IT, you may need an extra team of engineers. For facilities staff, one team of this size should be plenty for a medium to large data center. Each team should have a supervisor, with a divisional head managing every team in a certain department (NOC, facilities, engineering, etc).

Although your staff needs, especially on the administrative and software side, will depend on your industry and requirements for applications and systems, all data centers need data center operations, SAN and networking architects, support staff of varying skill levels, a developer or two, and systems administrators. Virtualization skills are paramount. Only a handful need to be senior staff.

What to Look for When Hiring

When hiring, you’ll of course want to look at education and certifications. The latter of which can actually be a better indicator of an individual’s knowledge and drive than the former, as a university degree is almost assumed (or on the flip side, someone without a degree may in fact possess more skills and abilities than someone who did graduate). Some certifications that carry weight include CompTIA, Microsoft MCSE and MCSA, and Cisco CCNA or CCIE. VMware and Citrix certifications are also valuable.

Experience is another factor, but avoid overspecialization. When an unpredictable situation arises and staff is short, you need a jack-of-all-trades. Your candidates should be able to handle stress well and be used to working odd hours, or willing to tackle these demanding work conditions. Finally, customer service, sales, and communication skills can be very helpful when dealing with clients and service providers.

Speaking of service providers, they can help supplement staff in order to avoid budget limitations. Part-time employees, outsourcing routine jobs, and temporary staffing during periods of intense workloads are all other ways to save some money while maintaining necessary staff levels. They may also be able to fill in knowledge gaps, like when auditing for specific compliance standards or installing unfamiliar equipment.

Data center skills are in high demand as the industry continues to expand, so depending on your market you may have trouble filling positions. Employees may jump ship after just a year or two in a fickle market. In-house training, solid employee benefits and relations, and opportunity for advancement will help attract and retain the best talent.