Separation of Production vs. Non-Production IT

Non-production IT can hinder mission-critical operations

Separating production and non-production assets should be an operational requirement for most organizations. By definition, production assets support high-priority IT loads — servers that are critical to a business or business unit. In most organizations, IT will have sufficient discretion to place these assets where they have redundant power supplies, sufficient cooling and high levels of security. Other assets can be placed elsewhere, preserving the most important infrastructure for the most important loads. However, business requirements sometimes require IT organizations to operate both production (mission critical) and non-production environments in the same facility.

In these instances, facility managers must be careful to prevent the spread of non-production IT, such as email, human resources, telephone and building controls, into expensive mission-critical spaces. While non-production IT generally does not increase risk to mission-critical IT during normal operations, mixing production and production environments will reduce mission-critical capacity and can make it more difficult to shed load.

Keeping production and non-production IT separate:

  • Reduces the chance of human error in operations.
  • Preserves power, cooling and space capacity.
  • Simplifies the process of shedding load, if necessary.

Our report Planning for mission-critical IT in mixed-use facilities (available to Uptime Institute Network community members) discusses how operating a data center in a mixed-use facility can be advantageous to the organization and even to the IT department, but can also introduce significant risk. Establishing and enforcing budget and access policies is critical in these circumstances; the entire organization must understand and follow policies limiting access to the white space.

Organizations do not need to maintain separate budgets and facilities staff for production and non-production operations — they’re accustomed to managing both; both are clearly IT functions. But the similarities between production and non-production IT does not mean that these assets should share circuits — or even racks. The presence of non-production IT gear in a mission-critical white space increases operational risk, and the less critical gear reduces the availability of mission-critical resources, such as space, cooling or power. The infrastructure required to meet the demands of mission-critical IT is expensive to build and operate and should not be used for less critical loads.

Separating the two classes of assets makes it easier for IT to manage assets and space, as well as reduce demands on generator and uninterruptible power supply capacity, especially in the event of an incident. Similarly, keeping the assets separate makes it easier for operations to shed load, if necessary.

Limiting the use of mission-critical infrastructure to production workloads can help organizations defer expansion plans. In addition, it makes it easier to limit access to mission-critical spaces to qualified personnel, while still allowing owners of non-production gear to retain access to their equipment.

However, not all companies can completely separate production and non-production loads. Other solutions include designing certain areas within the data center strictly for noncritical loads and treating those spaces differently from the rest of the facility. This arrangement takes a lot of rigor to manage and maintain, especially when the two types of spaces are in close proximity. For example, non-production IT can utilize single-corded devices, but these should be fed by dedicated power distribution units (PDUs), with dual-corded loads also served by dedicated PDUs. But mixing those servers and PDUs in a shared space creates opportunities for human error when adding or moving servers.

For this reason and more, the greater the separation between production and non-production assets, the easier it becomes for IT to differentiate between them, allocate efforts and resources appropriately, and reduce operational risk.

The full report Planning for mission-critical IT in mixed-use facilities is available to members of the Uptime Institute Network. Guest Registration is easy and can be started here.

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