‘Hyperscalers Drive Our Data Center Business,’ Says Tony DeSpirito, Schneider Electric

TonyThe worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow 21.4 percent in 2018 to total $186.4 billion, up from $153.5 billion in 2017, according to Gartner. The fastest growth comes from hyperscale cloud providers. HostingJournalist.com had an interview with Tony DeSpirito, Schneider Electric’s Vice President/General Manager of Data Center Operation Services, discussing the impact of this hyperscaler market dominance on Schneider Electric’s data center business, and more.

Schneider Electric provides end-to-end data center solutions and services worldwide. It also includes outsourcing services whereby enterprises and colocation providers around the globe out-task their data center operations to Schneider Electric. The company operates data centers of all sizes including some of the largest in the world. Their ‘Critical Facility Operations’ would be vendor-neutral, so they operate data centers that both have and do not have Schneider electric solutions.

What impact does the fast growth of hyperscalers have on your business?

“Hyperscalers drive a lot of Schneider Electric’s engineered-to-order solutions. Companies with hyperscale facilities are pushing the envelope of what could/should be done in the design of their datacenters to gain the slightest improvement in efficiency,” said Tony DeSpirito. “The impact of even a slight improvement in efficiency could result in millions of dollars saved due to the sheer size of the data centers.”

“Most of the hyperscale design architectures are repeatable, using large numbers of similar or identical high capacity infrastructure components. This allows us to know exactly what our solution needs to be to operate each subsequent facility. It also allows us to collaborate with the hyperscale customers to deploy potential improvements in one area that can be baselined against the same area in another facility. Designs of this nature allow for very efficient ‘Critical Facilities Operations’ with predictable outcomes.”

“Hyperscalers are in need of edge deployments as well, to improve the latency that their customers are experiencing due to the centralization of the data into these massive deployments. These important edge deployments are bringing big demand for Schneider Electric’s Prefabricated Modular Data Centers as well as our Critical Facility Operations business.”

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What are the latest technological developments according to Schneider Electric when it comes to operational efficiency and energy efficiency within data centers?

“Some of the latest developments in operational efficiency are being noted within the realm of predictive analytics tied to Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM). Today, there are more connected devices under the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) with maintenance and energy efficiency becoming front of mind. These analytics create new efficiencies in data center operations to analyze device information from power and cooling devices to ensure uptime with maintenance that is proactive instead of reactive. A direct result of this is energy efficiency, which is also being monitored in real-time by DCIM to determine power and cooling loads ensuring the most efficient equipment is providing service to the data center.”

Apart from Schneider Electric’s data center services delivered to hyperscalers, what message to you have to cloud hosting and colocation providers when it comes to their data center operations?

“Cloud and colocation companies are experts primarily in marketing/managing software technology platforms and leasing technical real estate, respectively. While assuring the highest quality, safety, security, availability, capacity, and resilience in data center operations is of principal importance to the delivery of their product to market, it is not actually central to their core mission. Maintaining a large staff of in-house data center professionals whose mission is to manage data center operations does not make you a better cloud hosting or colocation provider. It makes you a cloud or colocation provider that is distracted by the logistics, costs, and continuous improvement demands of day-to-day operations in critical facilities and IT service management. Wise cloud hosting providers and colocation companies out-task data center operations in both the grey space and the white space to competent third parties, and maintain a small number of highly skilled staff members to oversee and direct those operations and those third-party providers.”

“Inconsistent operations and performance between sites is another challenge faced by many cloud hosting and colocation companies who have been built via multiple acquisitions. Schneider Electric’s Critical Facility Operations program, for example, helps them bring consistent, documented processes and procedures across all sites. Large colocation companies often have a person or even a small team on staff with the expertise to implement best practices. However, due to rapid expansion, they typically have the bandwidth to do nothing but fight fires. We help them get out of firefighting mode and improve the overall performance of their data center portfolio. Additionally, the need to rapidly scale operations based on rapid business growth, the constant expansion of the global facilities, combined with the very tight market for data center technicians, presents serious staffing challenges for these companies.”

What kind of companies are out-tasking their full data center operations to Schneider Electric, can you provide a recent example?

“Sure, China Unicom is moving beyond telecommunications, quickly establishing itself in integrated cloud computing and network connection services with their China Unicom Cloud Data Co., Ltd. Their growth plan is aggressive, building 12 hyperscale data centers and 335 regional data centers across China. As they completed construction of two of their sites in Langfang and Hohhot, they realized they didn’t have the experience to efficiently operate data centers of this size.”

“China Unicom elected to out-task onsite critical power operation services for these two sites to Schneider Electric – from utility entrance down to rack power distribution units, with emergency generators and direct-current power supply systems included. There are currently 108 full-time Schneider data center experts on-site with plans to up that to 170 after completion of the next phase of construction. By leveraging Schneider Electric’s proven experience in data center operations, they have greatly improved the reliability of their critical facility operations, reduced operating costs by 30% and have achieved zero interruption to users’ key workloads. Essentially, out-tasking operations to Schneider Electric is enabling China Unicom to meet their aggressive growth goals.”

Much is written about the shortage of qualified staff to work in data centers. How does Schneider Electric address this challenge?

“Of course, we’ve seen a shortage of qualified staff in the market as well and have taken steps to rectify the problem. We work with regional staffing, trade schools, and military job placement companies to source personnel for our operations staff. As part of our commitment to operational excellence, our onboarding and professional development programs include an unparalleled training regimen to assure all staff members continuously meet our high standards. The training for new data center hires is a mix of hands-on and classroom learning.”

“Schneider is unique in the data center operations business, in that we are also an OEM of much of the major equipment that supports a data center. Our technicians can train on that equipment in a lab environment with no downtime consequence to a customer’s live data center. We develop the qualified staff from the selecting the right people with the right competencies and training them in data center operations based on proven methods, procedures and best practices. The hyperscale data center market also has driven strong demand for qualified critical facilities technicians, especially in the hotbed geographies. Schneider Electric can provide the people (as well as the processes, the tools, and technology) to quickly get these huge new data centers up and running.”

What are some of the lessons learned from operating data centers around the world?

“We’ve learned that around the globe and regardless of size of their data center, our clients faced the same kinds of challenges which led them to out-task operations to us. These challenges fall into 5 categories.”

“First, for most operating a data center is not a core competency and many people charged with overseeing operations do not have the broad skills or experience -in Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC, Project Management, Scheduling, intersystem dependencies – to operate a data center efficiently. This is true for colocation companies as well, where executives with expertise in real estate, not data centers, are overseeing critical operations. Secondly, most do not have standardized, documented operating procedures. Learning is by trial and error. Next to that, many are poor at risk management – there are too many vendors allowed access with not enough supervision, multiple vendors make it difficult to know who to call and standard emergency procedures are not in place. In the fourth place, most don’t have adequate tracking and reporting systems resulting in stranded assets, not understanding what has been done and what needs to be done and paying for service that never happens. And finally, virtually all data center operators are struggling to find ways to better control operating costs.”

To conclude Mr. DeSpirito, what do you see as the future of data center operations?

“The future of data center operations will be ‘lights out’ as advanced sensor technologies, predictive analytics and augmented intelligence all become ubiquitous. Think of the period between now and then as one of ‘dimming the lights’ where digitization of routine operations functions enables much higher human efficiency and populates data lakes that enable condition management functions to eliminate calendar-based maintenance, and predictive analytics to greatly reduce emergency maintenance. Edge and modular data centers are likely to lead the transition as sensor-driven data collection linked to service bureaus and augmented by scheduled human interaction becomes the most practical method of management.”

“To make this a reality, at Schneider Electric we’re executing a digitization strategy that is starting to ‘dim the lights’, with fewer but better-enabled people needed at a client site.  They’ll be supported by more automated processes, better technology, connected assets, remote monitoring and the information they need to make informed decisions.”

About Schneider Electric and Tony DeSpirito

With a global presence in over 100 countries, Schneider Electric provides data center solutions worldwide including power management, automation systems, data center racks, and more. Schneider Electric also operates many of the largest data centers in the world through its Data Center Operation Services business. Tony DeSpirito is Schneider Electric’s Vice President/General Manager of Operation Services. His responsibilities include strategy, marketing, sales, and execution of Schneider Electric’s data center operation services business.

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