Mission Critical Magazine has begun a months-long project to document the state of the mission critical industry from the people on the front lines. To kick off this effort, we sat down with Lex Coors, chief data center technology and engineering officer, Interxion; Peter Poulin, CEO at GRC; and Bhavesh Patel, vice president, global marketing, ASCO Technologies, for our inaugural article.

The mission critical industry has been growing rapidly the last few years and is expected to continue strong for the foreseeable future. To what do you attribute that growth and how long might it continue?

Lex Coors: The number one is cloud that has been globally accepted as the way forward. To support this cloud expansion, it requires a massive infrastructure increase that we currently see being implemented. Even the hyperscale’s of this world themselves could not even foresee its success looking at the continuously updated increase in power requirements. Hybrid cloud, IOT, machine learning, and virtual reality will further increase the growth rate even more. The previous mentioned will launch the future — not yet existing — AI (artificial intelligence) that will push us off the current map of imagination. AI will involve emotion, intuiting, and feelings on top of the machine learning algorithms.

Imagine only the data capacity required to make this step where biochemists will work with software developers. Where talking Humanoid 2.0 or soldiers (machine learning executing) and officers (AI) are able to make decisions in context. On your question how long this will continue; I would add “at this or even accelerated speed” and answer with “at least for the coming five to seven years.”

Peter Poulin: As new applications that require ever more powerful systems continue to emerge and gain broader adoption, this trend will continue indefinitely. There is a tremendous amount of early testing/validation in the area of artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoT information processing, virtual, and augmented reality. As these applications move from proof-of-concept to production scale, the need for mission critical infrastructure to support them will escalate. One of the wildcards in this space is cryptocurrency. It’s the Wild West out there, right now. Over time, one might expect this space to become more regulated and governed by organizations that require a more disciplined approach. This would likely lead to more mature and resilient infrastructures that provide the security and stability inherent in that kind of governance.

Bhavesh Patel: Digitization is a global phenomenon, it’s an everyday life phenomenon. At a macro level that is what is driving the growth of the mission critical industry. Because we are adopting, embracing, and utilizing digital technologies not just focused on one particular site or facility (in other words there are a lot of remote capabilities for one digital asset), the need for a 24/7 asset becomes a priority and that is what drives the growth of this mission critical industry. It is global because you need digital technologies not just in places like the New York Stock Exchange for the massive amount of data required, but also for the farmer in the middle of Africa to communicate using a cellular phone. Because it touches everybody the growth will continue for a while.

The amount of storage required on the internet doubles every year. Of the more than 6 billion people in the world only about 3.5 billion use the internet technology on a regular basis. As there is still a large portion of the population that is not connected online and are not yet truly benefitting. This growth is going to continue for a while as more people experience the digitized world.


How do you feel the tariffs imposed by President Trump will affect the industry? Or, will they have no effect at all?

Coors: Many of our customers are not yet sure of all the industry impacts, but there is a widespread view that the cloud enables greater flexibility to adapt to a changing external environment, whether that is driven by changing trade policies, Brexit, regulatory changes, or others. So cloud migration can be viewed as another way to mitigate risk.

Poulin: We expect it will have minimal effect. As long as the value derived from these mission critical systems exceeds the costs, including tarriffs, deployments will continue.

Patel: It is a concern, maybe not as much from the steel issue but in a broad sense: Is this tit for tat ever going to stop? It is steel today, is it food tomorrow, or is it something else? Anything that uses a circuit board, controllers, computers, even smart devices and smart phones, are predominantly manufactured in Asia. If this tariff war continues to grow there is an impact. The idea of tariffs is to neutralize or balance an inequality and the general belief is that both sides have enough to lose that common sense will prevail at some point. But if this does not happen, tariffs can have a huge impact in the mission critical and digital information markets.


If you were talking to a data center owner who wanted/needed to grow, what one piece of advice would you offer?

Coors: Listen to your customer requirements, foresee the future, and from there they can anticipate all of this.

Patel: Adopt artificial intelligence because the data centers are going to become a lot more intelligent. If you start to peel the layers, to get the intelligence you need you must have equipment that captures the intelligence and capabilities that process all that intelligence, and the infrastructure to react to that intelligence. But that is the wave of the future. Fifty years ago nobody even thought of an airplane flying by itself. Today, an Airbus 380 can fly by itself. That is what is going to happen to the data center industry.


How does this industry solve the workforce development problem?

Coors: Is there a problem for all functions or are we looking into the wrong direction? With the decrease in the fossil fuel industry over the coming years, plenty of these electrical/mechanical engineers and ship engineers will become available.

We have to look at this from a global workforce opportunity and not get stuck in a country issue to solve the problem.

Yes, for sure the increase in demand will trigger an increase in labor cost and possible decrease in growth but that is not necessarily an issue as it involves the whole chain of supply from building power capacity, building data centers, developing software applications, etc. If all of it would be wildly available to now satisfy our needs, we may overlook the need for innovations that will help us to keep our world alive!

Poulin: New, more powerful applications will continue to drive increasing rack densities in future data centers. Yet, more traditional applications will not go away. This will create a “density diversity” challenge for data center operators. Mission critical providers will need to develop architectures that can easily support and adapt to this challenge.

Patel: I think the labor shortage is not just in the data center industry, it is very broad-based. It is not completely a global issue, but a lot more of a cross-border issue. Look at the U.S. where unemployment is at its lowest in decades, there are many industries, data centers being just one of them, that can’t attract the right talent to the point where it limits growth. So data centers are not unique in that sense. I think the other thing playing into this is the Millennials who are different in their behavior, desires, and their outlook for life than what the Baby Boomers were. I think we all have to adjust to these factors.

The growth of data centers just like that of other industries has been faster than the net output in the workforce. If you have 10,000 people retiring and only 6,000 graduating from the colleges then you have a big problem. Data centers are comprised of people who run the data centers, people who produce equipment that goes in the data centers, people who are hired to optimize and maintain the data centers, and other people at support industries.


Besides workforce development, what is the biggest issue affecting the mission critical industry?

Coors: As you specifically mentioned mission critical, I am assuming the operations side of the equation. The speed of growth involves the increase in staffing and getting even very experienced new engineers to understand the new situation involves time to be taken from already overloaded engineers. This, again, leads to an increase in human error.

Poulin: Edge computing. Mission critical applications are moving to the edge. This introduces unique challenges regarding where to locate those edge datacenters while maintaining an infrastructure that is low-cost and fault-tolerant. It may be difficult/expensive to build a traditional “white space” data center in these locations, so alternative approaches to providing mission critical performance will need to be developed, tested, and broadly adopted.

Patel: I think this 24/7 world that we live in is very impactful for the data center business. Just because data center employees go home from work doesn’t mean that the cloud is not operating around the clock. So, there is a portion of the data center workforce that will essentially be on call just like in the health care industry, so how we prepare employees and employers for a 24/7 work environment is important. Today a mission critical employee may not be getting a call at 2 o’clock in the morning, but tomorrow that may be a necessity of the job just as it can be for a surgeon who gets that early morning call for an emergency.


What is the most important trend (two- to five-year view) you see coming toward facilities managers/owners/IT executives?

Coors: Setting up longer term partnerships with data center vendors and suppliers to manage the growth without unforeseeable delays related to failure of any in the supply chain.

Poulin: As noted above, GRC believes the trends that will require the most creativity and adaptability for facilities managers/owners/IT executives will be the density diversity and edge computing.

Patel: The broad umbrella of AI. If people are not adapting to this IoT concept, where you have sensors and you monitor and manage everything, then they will be left behind. Once you accept this the next step is to analyze and make conclusions from the volume of data that is created, and do so in an organized fashion, e.g., one cannot review millions of data points from a spreadsheet and make any sense from it, but organizing that data into a bar chart graph often makes more sense to people. Similarly, we will have to manage all our sensing data more effectively.