And it's not just about doing the time. Even in the absence of deep domain expertise, a manager has to be able to make smart decisions, especially when under duress. "If something goes down or isn't working quite right, the expectation from everybody is that it will be fixed — and fast," King says.
Helping data center professionals grow their skill sets is an organizational goal at PwC, Regan says. It's an imperative, adds Rick Ancona, deputy U.S. CIO and CTO at the firm. "It's the on-the-job experience that makes someone the correct choice," he says. "Not everybody has the unique background and depth of experience to be the director of data center operations for an $8.5 billion firm."
Turning into a top dog often starts with an understanding that the data center architecture is more than just about technology, says Andreas Antonopoulos, senior vice president with Nemertes Research. Rather, it's about understanding the business impacts of those technologies in light of the organizational needs of today and tomorrow.
"That requires a certain amount of professional maturity and expertise," Antonopoulos says. "This isn't just about picking the best virtualization vendor or the best storage strategy or the correct network convergence strategy, it's about understanding how this fits into culture of the business and the expected rates of growth and change, down to the merger and acquisition plans."
Anybody in or aspiring to a senior management position in the data center has to be well grounded in the financials of their operation, agrees Citigroup's Carney, who has his MBA.
"They need to be able to articulate their costs so they can get that buy in to why the team does certain things and why processes work a certain way, and they need to understand costs so they can control and measure those, and look for continual improvements," he explains.
Being people people
Last but not least, a data center honcho needs to be a people person, Carney says.
"When we talk about data centers, we're usually thinking about the networks and pipes and wires and generators and all those other things. But, in reality, with a position like mine, a lot of work goes around making sure there's a collaborative effort on all parties involved," he says. "No one person can operate on his or her own. We need a collaborative, team approach on how things get done and how they move forward."
Schultz is an IT editor and writer in Chicago. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.