As they enter 2009, CIOs are caught between two conflicting goals – users are demanding more, coupled with higher levels of performance, but reducing costs remains the primary objective for the data centre.
The is one of the main findings in Symantec's 2008 State of the Data Center report.
The report also found that data centre staffing remains problematic, servers and storage continue to be underutilised and disaster recovery plans are out of date.
In addition, respondents indicated that while they are pursuing green data centre initiatives, they are doing so primarily based on cost benefits.
"This research confirms what we are seeing in the field," says Sheldon Hand, storage specialist at Symantec. "Attention has turned to initiatives that will drive immediate cost reduction, rather than longer term ROI-driven programs. Storage has been a primary focus of these initiatives as the demand for capacity continues to rise, despite economic challenges."
Of those surveyed, 75 % reported user expectations are rising gradually or rapidly. In addition, 60% of the respondents saw meeting the service levels demanded by the organisation to be more difficult or much more difficult to meet. Only 10% saw service levels to be easier to meet.
Nonetheless, when asked to identify their key objectives for the year, reducing costs was by far the most frequently mentioned goal. In fact, reducing costs was mentioned by more companies than the next two objectives combined (improving service levels and improving responsiveness).
The key initiatives data centres are pursuing to "do more with less" include automation of routine tasks (mentioned by 42% of respondents), cross-training staff (40%) and reducing data centre complexity (35%).
According to the study, staffing remains a crucial issue, with 36% reporting that they are understaffed while only 4% reported being overstaffed. Furthermore, 43% say finding qualified applicants is a big or huge problem.
To address the staffing issue companies are leaning on outsourcing and training. Nearly half (45%) outsource primarily to give data centre staff more time to focus on other tasks.
The top three leading IT functions that businesses are outsourcing include business continuity (46%), backups (43%) and storage management (39%). Training is seen
as strategic by 68% of the respondents, with 78% expecting training budgets to rise or stay constant over the next two years.
Companies in 2008 reported that their data centre servers were operating at just 53% of capacity. Data centre storage utilisation was even lower at 50%. Not surprisingly Symantec found a flurry of activity aimed at increasing utilisation in both areas.
The major server-related initiatives include server consolidation (80%) and server virtualisation (77%). For storage the leading initiatives were storage virtualisation (76%), continuous data protection (71%) and storage resource management (71%).
Data centre management continues to report room for improvement in the area of disaster recovery. In fact, just 35% report their disaster recovery plan is above average, while 27% say it needs work and 9% report their plan is informal or undocumented. Companies still find that human error is the biggest cause of unplanned downtime, being the culprit 25% of the time. Hardware/software failure and power outages follow closely behind.
Continuing the trend first spotted in 2007, the data centre's focus on "being green" was driven by cost issues in 2008 with social responsibility on the rise. The study asked companies why creating a green data center was important to their workplace. Reducing electricity consumption was mentioned by 54%, followed by reducing cooling costs (51%) and a sense of responsibility to the community (42%).
This year's study shows the continuing importance for companies to control data centre complexity and costs. With the mandate to literally do more with less, companies are scrambling to find solutions that have an immediate effect on cost and efficiency.
"IT managers and executives are in a tough spot," says Hand. "Cost reduction is a non-negotiable objective this year, while user expectations remain high and demand continues to rise. We are seeing this translate into interest in solutions that provide customers with confidence and deliver immediate benefits in reducing server and storage spend without disrupting today's environment."