Managing a data center with iPads, BlackBerrys and a golf cart

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Imagine a world in which microseconds matter, where support must be instantaneous, and where every detail must be right. Then imagine that this world is a data center that at 428,000 square feet is larger than seven football fields. Now, imagine dispatching the support staff to fix a problem on a schedule that doesn't allow for travel time from one end of the data center to the other.

That's the problem faced by the CME Group, which operates the data center at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as well as for the co-location operations of several clearing and trading firms, along with running the exchange itself. "When our support staff goes out into data center, they don't have time to get back to office," explained John Verburgt, director of business process management at CME Group. Verburgt said that time is so critical to the Exchange and to its co-lo customers that traveling from one job to the office to get the next assignment would take too long.

The pace of trading at the CME is so intense that everything possible is done to cut delays. The data center has been moved close to the trading floor to cut latency, and the clearing and trading firms have co-located to the same data center also to cut latency. But that doesn't fix the problem with support staff who, dedicated as they might be, don't travel at the speed of light.

So instead, the CME Group outfits its support staff with smartphones and tablets and sends them work orders using the Appian BPM Suite and apps built specifically for the purpose. If necessary, the support staff can rush to the site of a critical service event in the data center using golf carts. They get their instructions on their mobile devices while they're out in the data center, with updates while they're on the way.

"The support staff is offered the choice of an iPhone or high-end Android device or a BlackBerry," Veburgt said. "This allows them to remain in the facility."

Veburgt said that the CME Group built a customer service portal that interfaces with the Appian software, allowing customers to enter service requests, which are then sent out to the service staff via their smartphones or tablets. Using mobile devices in the data center "saves 50 percent in staff costs," he said. Otherwise, he said that the staff would be larger, processes more manual.

"The requirements were ease of use, 24 x 7 availability and immediate response," Veburgt said, and he said that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group wouldn't be as effective if they hadn't decided early on to depend on mobile devices to reduce what could best be described as human latency. "There was a 50 percent return on that," he said.

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