A data center administrator (DCA) is an experienced information technology (IT) professional who is responsible for overseeing data center operations. Because DCAs are in charge of business-critical systems, they need to have an in-depth knowledge about everything that occurs in the data center, including infrastructure design, operations and lifecycle management for physical and virtual data center assets.
An effective data center administrator must develop a wide range of technical and business skills. The scope of responsibilities for the data center administrator spans multiple IT disciplines and requires knowledge of hardware, software and the business’ requirements for computing resources. For example, a DCA must be able to make recommendations for equipment and procedure changes to decrease costs and increase efficiency. At the enterprise level, a DCA may be responsible for multiple data centers and negotiating service level agreements (SLAs) with multiple cloud service providers.
Today’s DCA must be knowledgeable about both programming and data, especially in terms of how software integrates with the data center equipment (and the cloud). As the use of software to manage and define services that were historically served as hardware is increasing, DCAs must seek more knowledge about best practices for managing the software-defined data center (SDDC).
DCA roles and responsibilities
At a high level, the data center administrator is responsible for analyzing and determining the appropriate layout for all equipment in the data center. This includes the initial implementation and setup of the data center (if required), the on-going retirement and addition of new hardware and an understanding of the electrical, load balancing and cooling needs of the equipment.
Equipment in the data center can include servers, storage arrays and network switches, as well as cabling, printers and consoles. Proper implementation, racking and servicing of this equipment is within the control of the data center administrator. The DCA must understand how these systems work, both independently and with each other, and feel comfortable explaining the expected benefits of a particular technology or service to stakeholders.
The administrator creates and keeps documentation up-to-date and is responsible for capacity planning to ensure the facility meets current and expected power and cooling requirements. Depending on the size of the data center, the administrator will either be directly in charge of installation or will support a team with deployments. Administrators supervise and monitor all data center solutions, including troubleshooting and hands-on support to make sure the data center provides internal and external customers with optimal uptime.
Security of the data center facility is another important responsibility. This could include physical protection of the facility itself, such as environmental monitoring with automatic alerts and camera surveillance, as well as physical locking and protection systems. The DCA is also responsible for ensuring proper security protocols are enabled for all of the equipment and systems in the data center, including network firewalls.
Data center administrators and the cloud
Many modern IT applications and systems rely on cloud services, which means that the DCA must have knowledge not only about the equipment and solutions that reside on premises, but also the cloud providers whose services interact with the organization’s data centers. The DCA is responsible for vetting the capabilities of the cloud service provider to ensure that they satisfy the requirements of the business, both in terms of capabilities of the cloud provider and in terms of integrating with existing on-premises systems when needed.
The DCA must monitor and track all data center assets and should have experience with data center infrastructure management (DCIM) and other software tools to assist with that effort. They must create and keep documentation and processes up-to-date so successful server and system deployments are repeatable. It is also important for the DCA to coordinate with vendors and service providers to ensure effective installation and use of all hardware at various data centers.
As of this writing, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure are two of the predominant cloud providers for data center services.
Data center professional certifications
A data center administrator may obtain certifications from industry organizations and vendors to advance their understanding of the technology under their oversight. DCA certifications are usually divided into levels that reflect the applicant’s hands-on experience with server and storage hardware, network architecture, virtualization, security and monitoring tools, backup, capacity planning and power management, remote support and site planning.
BICSI Data Center Design Consultant
This vendor-neutral certification is designed for IT professionals with at least two years of experience in designing, planning and implementing data centers.
Certified Data Centre Management Professional
This UK certification is designed for individuals wishing to enhance their ability to effectively manage, control and improve the operational effectiveness of a data center environment.
Cisco Certified Network Associate Data Center
This introductory certification is for networking professionals who want to specialize in data center operations and support, and who have one to three years of experience.
International Data Center Authority
IDCA’s lowest level certification, Data Center Infrastructure Specialist®, is intended for professional who can demonstrate knowledge of data center foundations, prevailing standards, components and core principals. Other levels of IDCA certifications include:
Data Center Operations Specialist (DCOS)®
Data Center Operations Manager (DCOM)®
Data Center Engineering Specialist (DCES)®
Data Center Infrastructure Expert (DCIE)®
Data Center Technology Professional (DCTP)®
Data Center Manager (DCM)®
Data Center Expert (DCE)®
Data Center Authority (DCA)®
Data Center Certified Auditor (DCCA)™
Data Center Certified Instructor (DCCI)™
Data Center Certified Consultant (DCCC)™
Schneider Electric’s Data Center Certified Associate
This is an entry-level credential for individuals who design, build and manage data centers as part of a data center team.