What they say is true — everything is bigger in Texas.
Well, the 7x24 Exchange Fall Conference is, at least. But, what exactly does “bigger” mean, you ask? Well, for starters, it means a record-breaking number of attendees — 992 to be exact. It also means more exhibitors than ever before. But, that’s not to mention the things that can’t be measured, like the theme, building for the future, which challenged both the presenters and audience to come up with bigger and better ideas — to think beyond the limits of both the past and present.
Now, if you’ve ever been to a 7x24 Exchange conference before, then you know Bob Cassiliano, chairman of the board for the organization, does pretty much everything bigger and better, almost every time. But, that’s only because he notices the small stuff.
“We are thrilled that you are here for this fall conference,” he said, as he addressed the largest crowd he’s ever had in the opening ceremony room before.
He didn’t stop there though. Instead of focusing on the success of this particular conference, he took the audience through a journey of time, highlighting the milestones along the way. There’s been a lot of change since the organization was founded back in 1989 and 16 people attended the first conference. But, amidst all of that change, several traditions have been born — one of which is taking a moment to honor and celebrate Veteran’s Day to kick off the fall conference.
That might seem like a difficult thing to do in a bigger and better way, but, with the flag still waving on stage behind him, Cassiliano did just that when he thanked Paula Cortes for her live rendition of the National Anthem and then welcomed Adm. Mike Rogers to the stage.
It’s not uncommon to hear the words, “thank you for your service,” spoken to veterans. But, Rogers flipped the script, thanking everyone in the audience for creating, operating, and envisioning infrastructure that powers the nation.
“Look, I always try to remind people that data is digital gold,” he said.
And, after serving as second commander of the U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), director of the National Security Agency (NSA), chief of the Central Security Service, and commander of the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, he knows a thing or two about the value of data.
But, he talked about more than that. He shared experiences with the audience that taught him about the implications of leadership and chaos. He told stories about his sons and the conversations they have about their careers and what they want out of them.
“So, I think we have to acknowledge that as we’re looking at the future, our workforces have different expectations,” Rogers said. “And, we’re going to have to account for them. It’s a high-risk strategy to me, as a leader, to take an approach that doesn’t acknowledge your employee work base. Their concerns have to be accounted for and understood.”
Rogers touched on many aspects of the data center industry during his keynote presentation. But, the focus was on the chaos that is the labor shortage and how being an effective leader can resolve that.
Of course, he wasn’t the only one to focus on the labor shortage. The Women in Mission Cricital Operations (WIMCO) hosted a panel discussion titled, “Develop a Young Professionals Community to Drive Engagement.” The moderator, Aheli Purkayastha, chief product officer at Purkay Labs, was joined on stage by Sarah Godbehere, data center construction program manager at Google, and Sara Wengrowski, data center program engineer at Meta — aka “The Sara(h)s”.
Other highlights from the opening day included “Checklists and MOPS in Data Center Operations” with Steve Fairfax, president of MTechnology; “Real Talk: Do We Really Need to Replace Those Diesels?” — a panel discussion with moderator Carsten Baumann, director of strategic initiatives and solution architect for Schneider Electric, and panelists Paul Froutan, chief technology officer at Enchanted Rock, Daniel Schreiber, senior director of product marketing at Plug Power, Melissa Reali-Elliott, digital marketing and content manager at Kohler, and Samuel Short, deputy director of the Air Permit Division at Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Breakout sessions covered topics ranging from edge computing, cybersecurity, decarbonization, the circular economy, and sustainability.
And, in typical 7x24 Exchange fashion, the night ended with a bang during the Marquis Plus+ Partner Showcase, where attendees enjoyed dinner, live music, armadillo races, and more.
Greg Stover, global director of hi-tech development at Vertiv, kicked off Day Two with the keynote panel, “Building for the Future Requires Change Today: How New and Open Standard Technologies Will Sustainably Drive Tomorrow’s Digital Infrastructure.” Panelists included John Gross, owner of J.M. Gross Engineering; Peter Panfill, vice president of global power at Vertiv; and Zachary Smith, head of edge infrastructure at Equinix.
From data center design, site selection, and cooling case studies and best practices to water conservation, microgrids, and renewables fuels, it seems the conference offered something in terms of almost everything.
Before setting off for the future, attendees were transported back in time to the Vintage Western Carnival that featured cigar rollers, shoe shiners, poker tables, and antique booth games.
After three days of networking, education, thought leadership, and inspiration, the 7x24 Exchange Fall Conference made one thing clear: The future may not be in Texas, but it’s going to be bigger, and … it’s going to be better.