Staffing an enterprise level data center

190 pts.
Career Development
Data center design
Data center operations
A member recently asked: What is best practice for staffing an enterprise level data center in terms of FTE numbers? Is there a model that states a minimum of 2 FTE's per shift for safety and then an FTE per number of monitors?

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I’ve worked in/with datacentres of literally all sizes in my 11 years in IT; I’m not aware of any concrete model or best practice (perhaps there’s something in ITIL, which I’ve never bothered with to date).

In my view it really boils down to your organization’s needs; do you have a lot of change activity happening on all or some nights? Do you have a lot of systems that need constant babysitting? Do your end users call directly in with urgent change requests (application restarts, etc.), or problem reports? Can you afford to have the datacentre unmonitored for up to 30 minutes while a lone (and hopefully trusted!) employee takes a meal break?

Weigh your options. If cost is a factor, start with minimum staff, and observe and measure performance.

Although it’s not good from an employee morale standpoint, if you have a larger budget, start with a large number of employees and watch their utilization levels. If you find that they spend more time having LAN deathmatches than doing actual work, then you can cut back until you reach your optimum FTE levels.

The short answer: I don’t believe that any one formula, even if one exists, can dictate how *your* datacentre should be manned.


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  • Ve3ofa
    Agreed, there is no fixed formulae as there is no typical datacentre. One person may be able to do all the functions needed: help desk, backup operator, print queue operator, patch validator, you name it.. Sometimes management will take a look at the idle time involved in a datacentre operations.. As machines and operating systems become more stable and reliable the level of humans/machine ratio has gone down. In many cases having a hot switchable system is cheaper than a typical years salary for a human. How locked down are the workstations? The more autonomy given to the users the more calls to the help desk.. Is the help desk integrated with the datacentre? You have to also do the costing of a worst-case scenario.. the whatif's have to be considered, proper prior planning tends to reduce costs considerably. Most of the time in a datacentre operation the operators have a lot of free time until something happens and then they will feel understaffed and over-worked. Datacentres are designed to just 'work' without human intervention but you still need someone to change backup media (dvd/tape/cdrom) and to monitor system operations.. Many times a good operator can detect a problem before it impacts the users of the datacentre. And sometimes there is a catestrophic failure that the operator must deal with, depending upon the redundancy of the system as a whole will impact the operation. As for staffing you will also have to consider vacation and other non-work time of the operators.. In a 24/7 operation you may need upto 5 people (rotating shift) that do the same job plus a spare person incase of illness, family emergency, etc. Planning, planning, planning..
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  • HaeCons
    My experience in this domain is not in IT but in staffing a fire brigade. My brigade has to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. (I was looking for a town where fire happens only between 8 and 12 and 13 to 18 during business day. Still not found.) May be you have a suggestion? Back to the subject. We had to plan a basic scheme of 3x8 hours a day; 7 days a week. This means cover 168 hours of duty per week and a FTE can cover 8 hours a day (we planned 8 hours because we know by experience that a fireman is always working overtime and we try calculate the ?worse? case) -> 40 hours a week. A small calculation told me I need 4.2 FTE to cover the duty time. Add then - the private absences (vacation, illness, accident (happend also), family duties), - the training (very important and time consuming by fire brigade), - Other duties (civil security tasks, building security consulting and audit...) You can multiply your FTE by 3 to 4. This means that if you want to assure 1 man/woman 24hours a day, 365days a year, you have to plan between 12-16 FTE !!! Yes I agree it's huge, but is quite simple to calculate. I can imagine you can reduce this number by reducing the presence time (Sunday and bank holiday, you could cover only 8 or 16 hours and have people ready on call) In your case it?s worse because all people are not polyvalent; a fireman can backup another one. In your case, a network admin can only cover another network admin and dba can only cover another dba. So good luck by presenting a plan to your CEO asking 14*your IT staff to have a round around the clock a person on duty. Regards
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