Like many others in the Data Centre industry I have received several calls from journalists this week wanting me to quote on the unfortunate incident at BA. It’s always flattering to have people listen to you and publish your opinion and we all want our 15 minutes of fame but at AIT we chose instead to release a statement confirming that we had no knowledge of the incident and no involvement with the BA data centres. We were forced to do this because several journalists had “researched” the problem by googling and found an old BA case study on our website. We have worked with BA in the past and we could easily have commented on the incident but as we have no idea on what actually happened we resisted the temptation to join in the orgy of schadenfreude.
Of course we can all surmise on what happened and try to use this incident to push our claims for greater investment in Data Centres. Many have claimed that the UKs Data Centre infrastructure is chronically under invested and at great risk of catastrophic failure. But is it really or is this just ambulance chasing by Data Centre consultants? We all know of good and bad examples of Data Centres but is the problem really a lack of investment? Certainly a power surge in a Data Centre should not have led to a catastrophic IT failure but until we know what happened we should hold our counsel and resist hyperbole and finger pointing.
It may be that the problem at BA was caused by under investment, we just don’t know yet. So what do we know and what lessons can be learnt? Many of the competent and experienced people we have worked with in Data Centres over the years have retired. The Engineering and Mechanical and Electrical skills required to understand air flow and power distribution in a dynamic environment like a Data Centre seem in short supply. Why is this? Most of our consultants and engineers at AIT are in their 40’s and 50’s and while we do have an apprentice programme we struggle to recruit apprentices into this side of our business, with most apprentices wanting to go into our IT division. Is this indicative of what is going on generally? I suspect that it is and that the scarcity of skilled resource is contributing to the trend for organisations to run down their owner operated Data Centres and move servers into hosted environments. Those in the industry who jump on the bandwagon before knowing what really happened are fuelling this distrust and hastening the abandonment of owner operated Data Centres. There are many low cost, low capital intensive ways to make a Data Centre more resilient. Good process and good management goes a long way. My belief is that the biggest problem highlighted by the failure at British Airways may be an industry wide lack of investment in people and skills not in capital expenditure.