Vision

In a complex environment as a data centre, where multi-sourced, inter-related pieces of information need to be gathered, analysed and understood by different mind sets, in real-time, appropriate graphic representation is key. Being able to make sense of relevant data is important for people who are trying to make high-impact decisions, such as migration of hundreds of servers from one data centre to the other, or running a cross-connect (interconnect) between two servers on different sides and levels of the building.

Process

USER STUDY

On top of regular meetings with customers to discuss their needs in depth, I met our facilities’ technicians in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to study everything I can about interconnection (cross-connect), which is the physical connection of one customer-asset to the other. Besides interviews, I accompanied several technicians through their work - provisioning orders in the facility. By observing them in their routine, I was able to understand the complexity of the process, see their frustration over the inadequacy of the current tools they were using, and  witness some creative improvisations to solve problematic edge cases in real-time.

Each fabric optic cable sits in a tray, in a draw, in a rack or patch frame, in a hall or interconnect room, marked with a unique ID that corresponds with its owner (customer or facility).

“No matter what work we do or our obligations for today, most of us share some simple personal goals. For instance, most of us aim each year to advance in our careers, learn more about our fields, and set a good example for others. Products designed to achieve business goals – at the peril of personal goals – fail. ”
- Marcia Conner, EMC Corporations

Exemplar cross-connect path in a data centre

Based on my observation and conversation with the data centre technicians, I was able to create a diagram that maps the physical path of a typical cross-connect. By visualising the path, we were able to ideate a new feature - Path Suggestion, which will provide technicians the exact ports they need to connect along the multi-port path from A-end to Z-end. This could save the facility a lot of time and reduce expensive human error.

PRODUCT STRATEGY

In addition to the UX research, I also reviewed market reports and competitors’ offers to gain more insight into the problem and space of activity. Although the market leaders and major players were offering mature and sophisticated products to serve either the facility or IT, only few were offering a solution that considers the unique relationship and co-existence of the two groups.

Market of DCIM in relation to target group focus

“The key to success is integration across facilities and IT, people and processes, and old and new infrastructures. ”
- Katherine Broderick, CA Technologies

REQUIREMENT DEFINITION AND PRIORITSIATION

To organise thoughts and ideas I like using diagrams and models over lists. A visual representation of data adds another layer to a list by presenting hierarchy, highlighting categorisation or identifying relations between items. Sharing diagrams with customers and stakeholders lead to better communication and clarification of ideas.  In order to define the requirements, I analysed interviews with customers and stakeholders, to ensure the product will fit our customers’ needs, the business’s goals and our technological capabilities and resources.

Requirement prioritisation, based on user study

Mapping the activities in the data centre

INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE AND PROTOTYPING

From scribbles and sketches on paper, to static low-fi wireframes, to interactive UI mockups - I share the work-in-progress with my team, and internal and external customers to get feedback early and often. With the cross-connect product, I showed the DC technicians some screens and asked them to navigate between them on their own. This way, I could read their authentic response in first person. Then we’d all discuss the problems and think together of ways to solve them, by design. Wireframes and visualisations are also useful to ideate new features and system functionality with engineers and customers.

Dashboard: Space, power and network monitoring, from paper to digital

Visualising connectivity in the data centre

VISUAL CONCEPT

The dominance of monitor-related features in the product has lead us to seek a “dashboard” interface. An interface that affords reading data, on the basic level, and query in advanced mode.  The product should allow easy and multiple points of access into assets, whether by direct search or through the digitally translated hierarchy of the data centre’s internal architecture.  An appropriate graphical representation of the assets in their physical space will enable technicians to provision and manage network services faster, while reducing human error.

Rack and hall view,  monitoring and rack unlocking

Summary

After years of web design, this project presented a whole new challenge for me. It required rapid learning of an unfamiliar domain, and the ideation of a solution for a very complex set of problems. The advantage of designing a product that was partly dedicated to an “internal” customer, i.e. the data centre technicians, gave me free and frequent access to observations and interviews which were crucial to the task ahead. Developing a relationship with both customers and technicians, helped me to validate ideas early and gain regular feedback on prototypes, before they get built. Being able to validate detailed prototypes before a single line of code is written, was very important for maintaining an efficient, cost effective development process. As a product manager, de facto, I learned to conduct market research and analyse competitors’ offers, create SWATs, gap analysis, and define product strategy and roadmaps. Through that I gained a broader understanding of the product I was designing and the journey it required us to take as a team.