From commentator to supporter

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It’s great to be able to finally reveal that I have joined Vertiv as director of influencer marketing*, EMEA. 

It’s a bit of shift from being an analyst and journalist for the last 20 years but hopefully a rewarding change.

I’m really looking forward to supporting a team after years spent in the commentary box. 

And Vertiv is a great company to be working with right now as it moves into the next phase of its standalone journey: combining a start-up ethos with a great heritage and reputation. 

*If you want to know more about influencer marketing in business to business – this white paper is a good start. 

Norway Wants to Win Hyper-Scale Gold in the Data Center Olympics

Bergen, Norway

My latest and last (see below) Critical Thinking column over at Data Center Knowledge is on Norway’s bid to build up its data center industry.

To that end the Norwegian government recently published Powered by Nature: Norway as a Data Center Nation, a report that details the country’s credentials as an ideal data center location.

Coincidentally, I recently returned from my second trip to Norway, where I witnessed first-hand some of the things it has to offer data center operators.

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A chilly boat trip on the fjords just outside Bergen

First the positives: One that springs immediately to mind is the temperature. After visiting in February, I can report that Norway is indeed a great place for free cooling (the only thing that is free in Norway it seems). The temperature where I was, in Bergen, barely rose above 5°C (40°F), and it’s one of the warmer parts of the country, thanks to the Gulf Stream.

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Mock-up of Lefdal Mine Datacentre

Norway also does have some established data center operators already, such as Green Mountain, Digiplex, and Basefarm. One of the most recent projects is also the most interesting: the Lefdal Mine Datacentre (which we have written about before) has ambitions to be the largest facility in Europe, and, as the name suggests, it is completely underground.

So given all that, why hasn’t Norway been able to attract a hyper-scale operator to date? Head over to Data Center Knowledge to read the full column.

NOTE: As mentioned above, this was my last column for Data Center Knowledge as I’ve got an exciting new role which I will be discussing soon. 

Big thanks to Yevgeniy Sverdlik and the team for allowing me to contribute to the great editorial over at Data Center Knowledge. I look forward to continuing to work with them in my new role. 


Would you trust Siri or Alexa to manage your datacenter?

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Ok. The headline is a little extreme but it has some basis in truth.

This week I spoke with Litbit co-founder JP Balajadia whose company is developing AI personas to help with the management of critical infrastructure including datacenters.

Specifically we spoke about the deal the AI-start-up has done with CBRE.

The facilities management specialist is licensing Litbit’s AI  ‘persona’ technology to help it improve the management services it provides to datacenter customers.

The deal is still at an early stage and we didn’t discuss too much in the way of specifics but it will be interested to keep tabs on how it all progresses.

In particular, I’d like to know how many of CBRE’s 600 to 800 datacenter customers will sign up to the initiative and what the data privacy and security implications might be.

The other big challenge is how, and from where, Litbit and CBRE are going to pull data into the system to train the AI persona which will be known as REMI.

We did touch on it during our conversation – it will be text based initially – but the specifics of what the user interface for the REMI persona will be like will also be interesting to see.

For the full article go to Data Center Knowledge.

I’ve also written before about the wider challenges of using AI in datacenter management. 

The Idea of Data Centers in Space Just Got a Little Less Crazy

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SpaceX Starman and red Tesla in earth orbit

My latest column over at Data Center Knowledge is a timely riff on the potential for space-based datacenters off the back of the jaw-dropping SpaceX Heavy Falcon launch this week. 

The commercialization of space is nothing new, nor obviously is the use of satellites for telephony, internet connectivity, navigation, or broadcasting. However, the idea of a network of data centers orbiting the Earth – powered by the Sun and cooled by the icy vacuum – still seemed more science fiction that fact until very recently.

Elon Musk is not a man who seems overly concerned with orthodox thinking. This week, his company SpaceX fired yet another rocket – specifically Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in operation today – right through the space exploration rulebook. To emphasize his point, the payload was a cherry-red Tesla roadster that is now headed down a trajectory that will (unlike originally planned) take it beyond the orbit distance of Mars.

There are already a few different space-based data and networking start-ups out there worth checking out.

For the full article check out my Critical Thinking column over at Data Center Knowledge. 

Bringing data science to facilities management

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 10.34.36This week’s Critical Thinking column for Data Center Knowledge is based on a recent interview with Michael Dongieux founder and chief executive of Fulcrum Collaborations.

Fulcrum has developed a cloud-based platform for facilities management called MCIM. It can be used to automate a lot of the day to day management tasks that were previously done using spreadsheets or manual check-lists.

The main benefit that MCIM can bring, according to Dongieux, is the insight it can give on the cost of maintaining specific pieces of equipment but also how that equipment performs not just in one site but across multiple data centers.

“When someone logs an incident report, they are able to associate every asset or assets that were involved in the incident and then say what the source of that failure was. That information is crowdsourced and clustered automatically. That enables us to correlate not only what the asset condition index, or ACI, score is of a particular piece of equipment, but we can also say for example that at 85 percent of their useful life, centrifugal chillers typically start to see an increasing occurrence of a specific kind of failure, ” said Dongieux. 

For the full article head over to Data Center Knowledge.

From Bitcoin to Gangnam Style. Time for a data center ‘social worth’ metric?

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 17.10.23My latest blog over at Verne Global looks at whether it might be time to introduce another KPI or metric into the data centre management lexicon: social worth.

I owe a debt to Professor Ian Bitterlin for his cutting analysis of the energy consumption of the Youtube sensation Gangnam Style a few years back which stuck with me.

The recent volatility around bitcoin has also stirred up similar concerns about profligate use of energy.

Bitcoin facilities, or hashing centers, might be capex light but they consume huge amounts of power and, if critics are to be believed, with at best questionable long term benefit.

Head to Verne Global for the full blog.

Looking behind and beyond Vertiv’s recent acquisitions

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This week Vertiv, previously Emerson Network Power, made its second acquisition in as many weeks.

Even without going into the specifics, the deals are important in terms of proving that Vertiv’s new owner Platinum Equity is serious about investing in the equipment supplier’s future growth.

Drilling in deeper, the latest acquisition of PDU-specialist GEIST was important for a number of specific reasons:

  • There is increasing demand from hyperscales and large colos for integrated racks with power distribution, monitoring and other capabilities built in. The Geist purchase adds to Vertiv’s capabilities in this important and growing area.
  • Geist also has an innovative approach to manufacturing with production times cut down to less than a week for custom equipment. That fast turn around of custom kit is also important for large operators.
  • Geist also has existing customers including large hyperscales and colos which Vertiv has now got access to and should be able to sell additional products and services into.

All of these factors are important in the short term.

But it’s also interesting to think about how Vertiv will use, or enable its customers to use, data from PDUs and other equipment it has acquired and developed internally.

More on what that might mean and how some suppliers such as GE may have got it wrong over at my Critical Thinking column for Data Center Knowledge: There’s more to Vertiv’s Geist acquisition than PDUs and engineers.

How Flash is Enabling Other Disruptive Tech

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My latest Critical Thinking column over at Data Center Knowledge looks at flash storage in the data center.

To understand more about how flash storage has gone from a relative outlier to an accepted and core part of the data center infrastructure stack, we spoke with Alex McMullan, CTO EMEA, of flash specialist Pure Storage.

As well as explaining how flash can help improve overall data center efficiency, he also discussed how it supports and enables other disruptive technologies, such as machine learning (ML).

McMullan estimates that up to 20 percent of Pure’s customer base are investing significantly into machine learning and deep learning right now, including what he says are some of the biggest AI projects in the world.

Head to Data Center Knowledge for the full interview.

The first recommendation from Google’s datacenter AI was: Switch off the datacenter

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My latest Critical Thinking column over at Data Center Knowledge is part of the site’s focus on all things AI in the datacenter industry this month.

The hope is that AI-driven management software (likely cloud-based) will monitor and control IT and facilities infrastructure, as well as applications, seamlessly and holistically – potentially across multiple sites. Cooling, power, compute, workloads, storage, and networking will flex dynamically to achieve maximum efficiency, productivity, and availabilit

While it’s easy to get caught up in the exciting and disruptive potential of AI, it’s also important to reflect on the reality of how most data centers continue to be designed, built, and operated. The fact is that a lot of the processes – especially on the facilities side – are still firmly rooted in the mundane and manual.

And as Google nearly found to its cost, the answers and actions delivered by AI systems may not always be what was originally anticipated.

Just as Skynet in the film The Terminator took a dispassionate, logical view of preventing conflict, finding that mankind was the problem, Google’s algorithm reached a very simple and accurate conclusion about improving the efficiency of its sites:

The model’s first recommendation for achieving maximum energy conservation was to shut down the entire facility, which, strictly speaking, wasn’t inaccurate, but wasn’t particularly helpful either.

For more head over to DCK.

Datacenter downtime is bad but not nuclear silo explosion bad

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Source: This American Life.

Writing about datacenters and tech I am always looking for parallels with other industries to try and contextualise some of the issues that emerge.

Managing datacenters is challenging but what about other types of critical infrastructure like airports, railways and power stations?

I think I have found another great example.

I just listened to a recent webcast from the always excellent This American Life. Titled, ‘Human Error in Volatile Situations’ it does pretty much what it says on the tin.

The first story in the episode is the most gripping and probably the most infamous. For anyone who’s had experience of managing complex facilities equipment, it’s a must listen.

“In 1980, deep in a nuclear missile silo in Arkansas, a simple human error nearly caused the destruction of a giant portion of the Midwest.”

A devastating explosion, and a near nuclear incident, was caused by human error – use of the wrong tool – but exacerbated by extremely poor decision making from above and emergency operating procedures that seemed comprehensive but didn’t extend to the unthinkable.

Check out the podcast at This American Life.

I’m planning to check out the book on which some of the podcast is based next – Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety – but I’m also conscious that where nuclear incident safety is concerned, ignorance is also bliss.