Transitioning to an Outsourced Datacenter – Asking the Right Questions

By Jean Friestad, Asset Administrator

The company I currently work for, ABC Insurance, outsourced their datacenter to XYZ Computers roughly two years ago. (Names changed to protect the innocent . . . and the guilty!)

Ask: Have you accounted for all the servers? 

The ABC Insurance server department keeps a strictly monitored list of servers. When your company outsources a datacenter, one of the first things that is advised to do is to make sure that your vendor is tracking ALL the servers. Because the ABC Insurance had an up-to-date list of servers, I was able to reconcile the list of servers that the vendor was tracking fairly easily. If, by chance, your company does not have a list, your processes are problematic for accuracy or your asset management has not matured enough to have a current list, I recommend you take stock of your situation immediately.

A sister-company to ABC Insurance did not have a current list. Asset management went to the various departments managing servers and asked, “Are these your servers?” using the list they had at the time. The answer was usually, “Yes.” The question, “Are these your servers?” when presented with a list of five servers, allows the person answering the question to not tell you about the three other servers they have. A better question when interrogating is, “What servers do you have?” This question is more likely to garner a complete listing of servers.

Ask: Where are my current reports? 

When the outsourcing contract began, there were some seriously rough meetings involving the results of my reconciliation. Avoid letting the fox guard the henhouse, so to speak. Reconcile the list yourself. Do not let the vendor do it. It is in their best interest to tell you what you want to hear, not the full extent of any omissions you (or they!) have made. However, be firm. Politely insist that your vendor’s records be accurate, complete and delivered to you on a regular basis for review. ABC Insurance gets weekly reports.

In the course of those early reconciliations, I found many missing servers, as well as a slew of utility servers that belonged to the vendor on our report. It took some time and asking questions to see how these utility servers fit into our overall asset management. We chose to document the utility servers in our asset repository with the notation that these actually belonged to XYZ Computers, as due to the conditions in our contract, ABC Insurance was responsible for the software on those servers.

Ask: Where is Server X and when will it be on your report? 

Be sure to manage the expectations for yourself and the vendor appropriately. Tell the vendor what you expect. There is going to be some lag time between when your organization decides to spin up a server and the moment it is added to your vendor’s records. During weekly meetings, I would tell the vendor exactly what information I would be reconciling for the following week and when I expected the information to be accurate (or being attended to) by the next meeting.

Since you know the initial reports are going to contain inaccuracies, start small with your reconciliation efforts. Begin reconciling make, model, serial number and server name. The more complex your environment is, the longer it is going to take for your vendor to track them all down. In our case, XYZ Computers is a very large entity and getting information from one group to another is a challenging task and just takes time and patience.

Ask: Why isn’t Operation System X showing up? 

XYZ Computers runs a discovery agent on our outsourced servers. It is “supposed” to find all the software running on our servers. However, like a circus dog, the discovery agent need to be trained. The training of the discovery agent requires knowledge of what software should be there and a good deal of vigilance on your part.

The outsourced datacenter is a bit of a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, ABC Insurance is saving money by “letting the professionals” handle the datacenter. On the other hand, the outsourcing has created interesting challenges for asset management. If your company decides to go the route of outsourcing, it is in your best interest to develop a close working relationship with your vendor and, above all, be prepared to ask the right questions.