FEATURE // BY MISSION CRITICAL MAGAZINE STAFF
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?
John Hewitt: IT is changing everything. With smartphones, tablets and laptops, sensors and machine-to-machine communication we and our devices are connected everywhere, all the time, generating overwhelming amounts of data. Business models are changing to accommodate this reality and to take advantage of advanced IT capabilities and mobile technologies. That carries with it an expectation of network reliability that must be met, and that’s where the critical infrastructure comes into play. There is no going back. With the cloud, the Internet of Things, and the increasing importance of mobile computing — including the coming 5G rollout — computing and data management are going to remain paramount to business success for the foreseeable future. For critical infrastructure providers, the questions become: How can we do more to make all of this possible, and how can we do it faster while maintaining flexibility in a rapidly changing space?
Michael Zarrilli: Overall, growth is occurring across mission critical applications, including life science, data centers, oil and gas, etc. However, data centers are seeing significant growth due to broader technology adoption, which started with consumer electronic devices and has quickly spread to applications like automotive.
Jeff Klaus: As data becomes a key component of many companies’ competitive advantage, businesses are paying close attention to their infrastructure and are increasingly integrating IT into their larger strategies. Whether it’s managing legacy applications, implementing a cloud strategy, or understanding the inner workings of a data center ecosystem, the mission critical industry has been tasked with keeping up with business demands and innovating beyond the boundaries of traditional infrastructure tools. As businesses continue to see return on their investments into infrastructure improvements, we can expect to see this growth continue.
How soon will the remaining population add to the demand for data center growth?
Hewitt: It’s happening now. It’s driven not just by people, but by IoT and machine learning. We are adding sensors on nearly everything and as machines increasingly speak to each other, demand will continue to grow, and the pace of data generation will increase. As that happens, the definition of a data center begins to change. What we’ve known as enterprise data centers could be the edge to a hyperscale facility, and what we know now as the edge will get smaller and smaller. And remember: The number of intelligent, data-generating devices will continue to grow. Think about what we’re already seeing in smart homes. Every Alexa adds to it. Every Google Voice adds to it. Smart thermostats add to it. WiFi-enabled cars add to it. They’re all collecting and sending data.
Bottom line: Any organization that hasn’t embraced modern technology is on borrowed time. In truth, there just aren’t that many businesses that aren’t more reliant on IT today than they were 10 years ago. The question isn’t “how soon” it’s “how fast?”
How do you feel the tariffs imposed by President Trump will affect the industry? Or, will they have no effect at all?
Hewitt: We’re watching the situation closely and will continue to assess the potential impact to our industry as details become clear.
Zarrilli: While the total impact of the tariffs to the data center market is unknown, we do believe the steel and aluminum tariffs are impacting data center building costs.
If you were talking to a data center owner who wanted/needed to grow, what one piece of advice would you offer?
Hewitt: My advice would be: There is a huge advantage in working with partners that can support your needs across the network from beginning to end, including ongoing service and maintenance. Find a partner that can provide that end-to-end service. Here’s why: In today’s global economy, there is a scarcity of resources, including technology and technology personnel. That means the issue in the data center industry is not one of demand, but of supply, and that can create challenges in meeting customer expectations. With that in mind, it is imperative that the modern data center owner/operator embrace the ongoing changes in the data center as well as the complexity that comes with those changes. There was a time when the data center was a collection of individual, isolated pieces of equipment, and that was fine. After all, there was no need for UPS systems, PDUs, or cooling equipment to communicate. So they didn’t.
Today, that simply isn’t an option. Loads shift and fluctuate, communication with the edge and cloud resources is required, and the critical infrastructure must be intelligent enough and smoothly integrated across systems and locations to efficiently manage it all. The right vendor can make that happen.
Zarrilli: Choosing the right infrastructure partners is critical to the success of the data center owner. These partners will not only be able to reduce upfront capital expenditures (CAPEX), while ensuring an on-time build, but also be able to provide high-performing equipment that can reduce operating expenses (OPEX) and ensure uptime over the life of the data center.
Klaus: Granular insights are the key to getting your data center metrics under control. Too often we see data center operators without enough actionable data to be able to make day-to-day decisions or long-term forecasting. Without up-to-date, detailed insights on their environment’s power and energy consumption, overall health, and data center utilization, managers are forced to rely on a misleading and often qualitative view of operations. In order to grow, data center owners need to look to data center management tools that are designed to save power, reduce operating costs, and are easily integrated.
How does this industry solve the workforce development problem?
Hewitt: We are doing a lot of research into this. It’s a very real issue. As the Baby Boomers retire, the workforce as a whole is getting younger and losing considerable institutional knowledge. In an industry that changes as fast as ours, that is a problem. For ourselves, we are addressing it in a number of ways:
We are looking at non-traditional channels for potential employees. That means we might consider non-degreed students or those with non-traditional degrees for IT careers. We work closely with educational and vocational institutions to find talented individuals and invest time and resources to train them for the specific job we need them to do. This training can be up to and including apprenticeship arrangements.
There also is a role for IT and the cloud in bridging this gap from Boomer to Millennial. Through machine learning and data collection/analytics in the cloud, it’s possible to gather insights from across a given organization — and beyond — to give newer employees the power of decades worth of operation. That knowledge doesn’t have to leave the organization just because a person does.
Besides workforce development, what is the biggest issue affecting the mission critical industry?
Hewitt: It’s an exciting time to be in this business. We are impacting the world in countless ways by engineering solutions that help solve some of the world’s most difficult problems. That doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging. The sheer volume of data, and the speed at which it is generated, can be daunting and creates new and interesting challenges. Workloads are moving, often to hyperscale facilities or to the edge to be closer to citizens and consumers. Through it all, as the data center industry continues to grow, it puts pressure on companies to be responsible corporate citizens by operating more efficiently and reducing energy consumption and their carbon footprint.
Klaus: With the industry’s rapid growth, we’ve seen a rush to appease demands rather than fine tuning current data center strategy that will benefit overall operations in the long run. Energy costs are the fastest-rising expense for today’s data centers, but the overarching question is how well teams understand their energy consumption. It’s time for teams to strike a balance and develop into a modernized operation that fulfills both high energy demands and a long-term focus on eliminating waste.
What is the most important trend (two to five year view) you see coming toward facilities managers/owners/IT executives?
Hewitt: The move to the edge is a massive change to the traditional data center model. Workloads are shifting toward the edge of the network to be closer to citizens and consumers, changing the way we think about critical infrastructure and creating new needs around data transmission and security. This is leading to a shift toward the traditional telecom model, with smaller sites scattered far from the network core, and it’s likely we’ll see continued convergence between IT and telco. This may manifest itself in different models for managing and servicing those sites.
Zarrilli: Data center infrastructure standardization will become increasingly important as the data center industry grows. While data center CAPEX and OPEX have come down considerably over the last 10 years, infrastructure standardization will further drive down these costs. The Open Compute project is a great example of industry-wide collaboration and this will continue to grow.
Klaus: Over the next few years, we expect enterprises will increase reliance on edge computing solutions to increase data center insights. Gartner projects enterprise-generated data from outside of traditional cloud computing centers could increase to upwards of 75% by 2022 demonstrating the data shift created by digital transformation initiatives. With an increase in big data workloads and rise in real-time computing, traditional cloud computing architectures need to evolve to a more decentralized approach that processes data at or near the source. Not only will edge computing increase data computing efficiencies but will promote the further implementation of emerging technologies and allow enterprises to scale operations, increase data security, and reduce overall costs.
Will the mission critical market be hindered by capacity problems of the electric grid, a problem that is a general hindrance to any industry or country’s growth?
Hewitt: The mission critical industry exists to protect against those problems. That’s our job. When the grid fails, our job is to make sure our customers’ networks stay up and running. We do this in developed countries with a reliable electric grid, such as the U.S., and we do it in parts of the world where utility power is less secure.
Zarrilli: The electric grid is critical to data centers and energy providers will continue to work with data centers to ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place. Additionally, in most current instances, data center providers have flexibility to locate in geographic locations with optimal infrastructure, which is why there is significant construction in places like Ohio and Iowa.
Klaus: There’s no doubt energy demands and infrastructure capabilities are working to find a balance that results in success for businesses while still being conscience of the limited supply of energy. While this may be an uncomfortable growing period for all involved, this situation serves as an opportunity to invest in and innovate with renewable energy options.
How do you see your own company as an important cog in this growing industry?
Hewitt: Again, the IT industry — whether we’re talking about hyperscale or enterprise data centers, the edge of the network, or the IT component of 5G networks — is critical to our way of life. Think of the ways IT touches us personally and in a business sense: traffic management and mass transit systems, emergency services, hospitals and other medical facilities, banks and financial institutions, ecommerce and transaction processing, telecommunications, national security … they all rely on IT systems and data centers. We make sure those systems and facilities support that demand reliably and efficiently, ensuring all of today’s critical technologies always work.
Zarrilli: Johnson Controls is a core partner across HVAC equipment, building management systems, security and fire infrastructure systems for data center providers. Johnson Controls will continue to work hand-in-hand with our data centers customers to build and operate some of the most reliable and efficient data centers in the industry.
Klaus: Intel Data Center Manager equips operators with the visibility needed to take control of their data center. The solution’s powerful portfolio of tools helps teams lower operational costs, optimize infrastructure in their own data center or in col-location, and take control of remote management. With insights into thermal consumption, power usage and health utilization, we work with data center teams in a variety of industries to provide a data-driven overview of their data center operations, decrease infrastructure inefficiencies and, ultimately, increase cost savings.