IT managers are increasingly being asked to get more from less out of their datacentres, but this provides an excellent opportunity to get their house in order, according to Symantec.
The security firm's second State of the Data Centre Report (PDF) surveyed 1,600 large enterprises in 21 countries, and found that datacentre managers are still caught between the demand for higher performance, and the need to reduce costs.
The research also revealed that staffing problems remained a major issue for companies in 2008, yet the IT manager's list of responsibilities is as long as ever.
Applications continue to grow in number and complexity, servers and storage remain underutilised, and disaster recovery plans are still not fully complete.
"This research confirms what we are seeing in the field," said Rob Soderbery, senior vice president of Symantec's Storage and Availability Management Group.
"Attention has turned to initiatives that will drive immediate cost reduction, rather than longer term programmes driven by return on investment. Storage has been a primary focus of these initiatives as the demand for capacity continues to rise, despite the economic challenges."
Three-quarters of the companies surveyed expected user demand to rise, and half anticipated that meeting the service levels demanded by the organisation will get 'more' or 'much more' difficult. At the same time, reducing costs was by far the most frequently mentioned objective.
Staffing remains a crucial issue, according to the study, with 36 per cent reporting that they are understaffed and 43 per cent saying that finding qualified applicants is a 'big' or 'huge' problem.
On a positive note, many companies are addressing the issue by training existing staff. Training was seen as strategic by 68 per cent of respondents, and 78 per cent expect training budgets to rise or stay constant over the next two years.
A particularly worrying finding was that disaster recovery remains a major pitfall for most datacentres. Only 35 per cent of respondents believe that their disaster recovery plan is 'above average', while 27 per cent said that it 'needs work' and nine per cent admitted that their plan is 'informal' or 'undocumented'.
Guy Bunker, chief scientist at Symantec, told vnunet.com that although this environment is challenging it offers "the perfect opportunity for IT departments to get their house in order".
Bunker believes that companies can use this time to implement changes such as the adoption of virtualisation, outsourcing certain IT tasks such as email, security and backup, utilising software-as-a-service for certain applications, and stripping out or optimising unnecessary hardware and software.
These measures can not only reduce costs and improve efficiency, but can help simplify the management of the entire IT estate, according to Bunker, thereby alleviating some of the headaches generally experienced by datacentre managers.
The findings were echoed by other IT firms. "It is no surprise for datacentres to be under increasing pressure. The challenge to do more with less is playing out right across the board in most companies," said Peter Stroud, managing director at value added reseller Panacea Services.
"Fortunately for IT managers and the chief financial officer, IT is better equipped than most departments to help achieve these cost-cutting goals.
"We have seen a significant take-up of technologies such as server and storage virtualisation which can make companies more nimble and more productive while bringing down costs."
Bunker concluded that he was glad to see the IT department being of " fundamental importance to the business", and warned that under-investing is " not an option".
"Managers face a tough year, but can achieve their goals if they focus on three key areas: automation of routine tasks; cross-training of IT staff; and server virtualisation and consolidation."
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