Carla Haines, Global Director of Customer Experience, Colt Data Centre Services
When we think of data centres, we often think of racks upon racks of servers and cables all working together to ensure smooth operations. But beyond those racks lies a less obvious yet equally significant component to successful data centre operations – service management.
Service management provides customers a single point of contact into the supplier organisation. Service managers have a responsibility to ensure that the organisation is compliant and provides the customer with regular evidence and reporting of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in line with the agreed Service Level Agreement (SLA). This can involve anything as granular as demonstrating a consistent temperature and humidity within pre-defined parameters in a particular data hall, to ensuring we fulfil contract obligations for screening of contractors, risk management of suppliers and data privacy items pertinent to the customer.
So why does this matter to you as a hyperscaler?
As a customer, the main priorities for you will be in picking an experienced provider that is not only able to support your business and scaling needs, but also one you can trust and build a strong partnership with. Hyperscale partnerships often last years (even decades!), so as a customer it is important to pick a provider that is in line with your requirements.
Within hyperscale data centres, effective service management comes down to three key things – compliance, communication and collaboration. Here we explore how these three aspects play a crucial role in hyperscale support, and what is expected of providers, and you as a customer, to make the partnership a success.
What sets service management apart in hyperscale environments is the complexity of the contracts. Most hyperscale customers place a heightened importance on having standardised operations and services across their data centre estate – no matter where it is or who owns it, and it is up to the provider to help them achieve this.
The first step to ensuring successful compliance starts at the very beginning – contracting. This is the most important step of the journey where reporting requirements and SLAs are agreed, with service credits imposed for failure. The onus lies on both providers and customers to make sure that contracts are clear. Providers must be equipped and able to deliver on the agreed SLAs, whereas customers must be transparent about their requirements – however small. Anything that isn’t agreed upon at this stage may cause significant issues further down the line, impacting both providers and customers alike.
Having said that, it is just as important that your provider is able to offer a level of flexibility. It is to be expected that customer strategies evolve over time, and requirements may change as a result. Take carbon neutrality for example. Just a few years ago it was not a key priority for many customers but this has now changed and we, as a provider, are expected to adapt our designs and processes to accommodate the shift. Selecting an experienced provider will make the difference here. These providers have the expertise and know-how to ensure their customers are well taken care of, despite changing requirements.
Regular audits can be helpful as a mid-way check-in to ensure your partnership with the provider is moving in the right direction. As a customer, it is important that you are giving your provider adequate notice ahead of these audits. Encouraging collaboration here can benefit both parties – customers can get adequate access and support ahead of the audit and providers are able to prepare ahead of time, ready to demonstrate their compliance and strength of partnership.
Upon completion of these audits, customers can then assess the response of their providers – did your provider act swiftly to address the issues? Can the provider mitigate any risks? Do they understand where there are risks?
Good service management is not a one-man job. It is important that as a customer, you feel supported by a strong service organisation and team.
A live and open communication channel between customers and providers must be established early on. A thorough onboarding process and relationship agreement at the start of the partnership is critical.
On the rare occasion that there has been an incident, Incident Management Teams are expected to act swiftly, explaining how the problem is being addressed before customers even know something has gone wrong. The team is also expected to keep up continual communication with the customer, staying ahead of any developments and offering reassurance and confidence that the situation, however small or large, is being handled effectively.
It is a valuable exercise to check that your provider is able to deliver support teams, subject experts and customer champions who are immediately reachable should anything occur. It is equally as critical to ensure that your provider is not only easy to work with, but also has robust processes and tools in place to meet your requirements.
The last C, and perhaps the most important one, is the ability of both sides to collaborate freely. Just like any relationship, trust and honesty are critical, and building this takes time and effort. While more and more emphasis is being placed on compliance and contact, good old-fashioned relationship management can’t be ignored.
The key is transparency. Think of your providers as partners – almost as an extension to your team. When customers have an urgent, out-of-the-blue request to make – such as a site audit they need to perform urgently – it is important that the customer and provider are be able to work together to see what’s possible. Providers need to be clear and honest about what they can and cannot provide while also being as flexible as possible. It is critical to ensure you as a customer always feel your needs are a priority, as it rightfully should be.
It is important that collaboration remains a priority throughout the partnership, not just during the contract signing stage. Continual collaboration is key particularly during transition stages. Customers must be kept engaged and up to date on any progress as the partnership moves from the initial construction stage all the way through to the go-live date.
At the end of the day, customers come first
Like every relationship, the partnership between hyperscalers and providers can only be successful if both are able and willing to work together.
Every customer will want their relationship with their provider to be as smooth sailing as possible, so it is important to trust your provider and allow them to offer the best service possible. At the same time, providers need to bear in mind that their success depends on the service they can provide their customers.
Even as hyperscale facilities evolve over time, one thing remains certain – the 3 Cs of compliance, communication and collaboration will continue to remain a key component of any successful data centre operation.
At Colt DCS, we understand the principles that go into making a great service management experience.
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