DCN July 2016 - Page 37

IT Personnel By all accounts these individuals are an endangered species – in chronic short supply but in great demand, a situation which is posing a major risk to the industry. Gartner has predicted that 80 per cent of data centres will feel constrained in terms of growth this year because of the skills shortage. With the latest figures from Ponemon Institute and Emerson Network Power putting the average cost of a data centre outage at $740,357 and the same report attributing around a fifth of outages to human error, the financial and reputational risks of not having sufficient numbers of skilled and experienced data centre operators are evident. I recently attended a debate entitled, ‘Stone Age Thinking, Second Machine Age Challenges’ hosted by Cassini Reviews, which brought together industry experts from CNet Training, Volta Data Centres, Equinix and Anglia Ruskin University to debate how to solve the industry skills crisis. There were many interesting areas of discussion including: Why businesses haven’t invested in technical skills whilst being aware of the huge technical advances in recent years. What can the industry do to attract more talent and prevent the pipeline from diminishing further? How can training and development methods be improved? What can be done to reduce the risks of human error in data centres? A perfect storm – the skills crisis One of the main speakers, Dr Theresa Simpkin, head of department, leadership and management at Anglia Ruskin University – which offers a master’s level course in data centre leadership and management – described the current situation as ‘a perfect storm.’ She told us that some in the industry report that as many as 80 per cent of data centre engineers globally will retire in 20 years; the industry is failing to develop its talent or to attract young people and there are major cultural challenges to address. She explained that the sector needs a branding overhaul to make data centres more attractive employers of choice. Careers advisors in schools and universities seem in the dark about the industry’s prospects for young people and graduates who have specialised in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), and women in general, are not coming into the sector. According to Simpkin, the challenge of finding certified, experienced people with appropriate skills for data centres roles is urgent, as is the need to manage the transfer of knowledge from a retiring workforce to new recruits. Added to this, the workforce as a whole will need to double to meet future demand. What steps are needed to turn the tide? Universities like Anglia Ruskin offering specific master’s degrees in data centre design, data centre leadership and management and the newly launched Leeds Institute for Data Analytics at Leeds University pioneering ‘Big Data’ analytics will help to prepare greater numbers of graduates for the sector. Equally, the Data Centre Alliance’s boot camp and the qualifications and certifications offered by data centre training specialists like CNet Training are turning out greater numbers of qualified professionals globally. But most of us present agreed that this may just be scratching the surface of the problem. Simpkin believes the sector must mobilise and the sector’s capability must be developed in the next five years. Key to this is engaging schools, universities and young people, and to do this the industry must present a clear vision of the career paths and opportunities for lifelong development available. A data centre’s effectiveness depends on the availability of experienced and competent network and data centre managers and engineers. A more innovative blend of vocational and educational opportunities is also needed to give school leavers more opportunities to join at entry level, gain some experience, and then study for a degree qualification, which in time will prepare them for a more senior role. The risks – the human factors Improvements in training and how to mitigate people risks in data centres were other key aspects of the discussion. Whilst official figures report that 22 per cent of outages are caused by human error, Paul Bevan, co founder and director of Cassini Reviews told me that, in reality, human errors cause most outages. 37