How Industrialization Drives a More Predictable and Reliable Data Center Life Cycle

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Arun Shenoy, the Vice President of Schneider Electric’s IT business in the UK talked to me recently about how he sees the data center industry developing over the next few years. A major challenge he feels needs to be addressed is a shift in the sector from its current engineering-focus to become a business with a much greater emphasis on operational management.

For a variety of reasons, there has been too much attention paid to the way data centers and infrastructure has been built, with comparatively little attention on the cost of operations throughout the life cycle. I asked him in this context, what he means by the “industrialization of the data center” and what benefits it will produce from those owning and operating data centers. You can see our interview here.

“As an industry we are 30-35 years old,” he said. “We’ve grown very rapidly and so far we’ve been very technology driven and that is an extremely good thing. That focus has created the infrastructure that resides in hundreds of thousands of data centers around the world and it’s that infrastructure that gives us all the things that we take for granted, like the internet and applications such as messaging, streaming, two-way video communications and so on.”

“I think the next challenge is quite a different one and it’s making the transition from being engineering focused to being operationally focused. What that really means is that we need to start to think much more carefully about how all the infrastructure we will have is going to be managed. How is it going to be run? How do we know how well we are running our infrastructure and doing our jobs to the best of our abilities?”

“Part of this, of course, is people related. But there is also a technical solution which requires giving thought to – what the infrastructure looks like and feels like throughout its life cycle, not just putting a data center together from a design and build perspective and then moving on to the next project.”

“We need to think about ourselves as an industry that is maturing and as all industries mature they go through several stages of pain. The initial stages of pain are related to that change, in other words understanding where you are in the process and making the decision to change.”

“What that means is thinking very carefully about life cycle. How will the infrastructure that is built today perform throughout the phases of its life cycle? At some point in time we will refresh equipment. We will make capital reinvestments. We will make operational investments. We need to think those through throughout the life cycle.”

“What technology platform do we put in place so that we can manage our infrastructure better? The industry is still in a state of hyper growth so we’re still going to grow the number of facilities, although they may change size and shape. In fact, if the market does change in the way that we expect it to and makes a move towards Edge computing, the whole facility landscape will change dramatically.”

“To be able to manage the operation of those sites better we need to think about what the life cycle looks like. How do we want to run infrastructure in the best possibly way, ideally with the least amount of human intervention, and that’s where software and technology come in.”

“I think one of the things that we can do as an industry is to short circuit that learning process by not going through the same pains that the other industries have already been through. So let’s look at oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, water and utilities and nuclear power stations. They’ve been through this exercise in varying time periods over the last 10 to 15 years. Let’s figure out what they did to change their operational best practice and use that knowledge.”

“So we don’t have to learn all those lessons for ourselves; we’ll make our own mistakes and learn our own lessons but let’s at least stand on the shoulders of our ancestors in the context of this particular maturity.”

I asked Arun whether he thought that Schneider Electric, as a company with roots in industrial automation, was in a good position to help the industry to move forward.

“Yes and I think that’s really important,” he said. “I think we need as a company to do a better job in two ways. We need to describe our vision of the future and that this vision is not just about products and technology: it is really about the life cycle. Our customers no longer buy product; they buy a system. They buy a solution. They buy an entire data center. We would expect our customers to come to companies like Schneider and say: ‘I’d like you to build me infrastructure that is predictable in terms of reliability and efficiency but is also incredibly easy to manage.”

“For us it’s about taking our investment in our StruxureWare products along with our investment in the infrastructure products and bringing them all together to do that one thing that our customers really would like from us and that is to give them the most predictable reliable infrastructure that they can possibly buy.”

Schneider Electric white paper 195, “Fundamentals of Managing the Data Center Life Cycle for Owners” describes the five phases of the life cycle, identifies key tasks and pitfalls, and offers practical advice to the owners and management of legacy facilities.

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