The next BriefingsDirect panel discussion explores how March 25’s International Data Center Day provides an opportunity to both look at where things have been in the evolution of the modern data center and more importantly — where they are going.
Those trends involve a lot more than just technology. Data center challenges and advancements alike will hinge around the next generation of talent operating those data centers and how diversity and equal opportunity best support that.
Our gathered experts also forecast that sustainability improvements — rather than just optimizing the speeds and feeds — will help determine the true long-term efficiency of IT facilities and systems.
To observe International Data Center Day with a look at ways to make the data centers of the future the best-operated and the greenest ever, we are joined by Jaime Leverton, Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at eStruxture Data Centers in Montreal; Angie McMillin, Vice President and General Manager of IT Systems at VertivTM, and Erin Dowd, Vice President of Global Human Resources at Vertiv. The International Data Center Day observance panel is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Erin, why — based on where we have come from — is there now a need to think differently about the next generation of data center talent?
Dowd: What’s important to us is that we have a diverse population of employees. We think about diversity from the perspective traditionally around ethnicity and gender. But when we consider diversity, we think about diversity of thought, diversity of behavior, and diverse backgrounds.
That all makes us a much stronger company; a much stronger industry. It’s representative of our customer base, frankly, and it’s representative of the globe. We are ensuring that we have people working within our company from around the world and contributing all of those diverse thoughts and perspectives that make us a much stronger company and much stronger industry.
Gardner: We have often seen that creative and innovative thought comes when you have a group of individuals that come from a variety of backgrounds, and so it’s often a big benefit. Why has it been slow-going? What’s been holding back the diversity of the support talent for data centers?
Diversity for future data centers
Dowd: It’s a competitive environment, so it’s a struggle to find diverse candidates. It goes beyond our tech type of roles and into sales and marketing. We look at our talent early in their careers, and we are working on growing talent, in terms of nurturing them, helping them to develop, and helping them to grow into leadership roles. It takes a proactive approach, and it’s more than just letting the talent pool evolve naturally. It is about taking proactive and definitive actions around attracting people and growing people.
Gardner: I don’t think I am going out on a limb by observing that over the past 30 years, it’s been a fairly male-dominated category of worker. Tell us why women in science, technology, engineering, and math, or the so-called STEM occupations, are going to be a big part of making that diversity a strength.
Dowd: That is a huge pipeline for us as we benefit from all the initiatives to increase STEM education for women and men. The results help expand the pool, frankly, and it allows candidates across the board, that are interested at an early age, to best prepare for this type of industry. We know historically that girls have been less likely to pursue STEM types of interest at early ages.
So ensuring that we have people across the continuum, that we have women in these roles, to model and mentor — that’s really important in expanding the pool. There are a lot of things that we can be doing around STEM, and we are looking at all those opportunities.
Gardner: Statistically there are more women in universities than men, so that should translate into a larger share in the IT business. We will be talking about that more.
But we would also like to focus on International Data Center Day issues around sustainability. Jaime, why is sustainability the gift that keeps giving when it comes to improving our modern data centers?
Leverton: International Data Center Day is about the next generation of data center professionals. And we know that for the next generation, they are committed to preserving the environment, which is good news for all of us as citizens. And as one of the world’s biggest consumers of energy, I believe the data center industry has a fundamental duty to elevate its environmental stewardship with energy efficient infrastructure and renewable power resources. I think the conversation really does go well together with diversity.
Gardner: Alright, let’s dive in a little bit more to the issues around talent and finding the best future pool. First, Erin please tell us about your role at Vertiv.
Dowd: I am the Global Business HR Partner at Vertiv. So my focus is to help us design, build, and deliver the right people strategy for our teams that have a global presence. We focus on having super-engaged and productive people in the right places with the right skills, and in developing career opportunities across the continuum — from early level to senior level of contributors.
Gardner: We have heard a lot about the skills shortage in IT in general terms, but in your experience at Vertiv, what are your observations about the skills shortage? What challenges do you face?
Dowd: We have challenges in terms of a shortage of diverse candidates across the board. This is present in all positions. Increasing the diversity of candidates that we can attract and grow will help us address the shortage first-hand.
Gardner: And in addition to doing this on a purely pragmatic basis, there are other larger benefits. Tell us why diversity is so important to Vertiv over the long term?
We have challenges in terms of a shortage of diverse candidates across the board. This is present in all positions. The diversity of candidates that we can attract will help us.
Dowd: Diversity is the right thing to do. Just hands down, it has business benefits, and it has cultural benefits. As I mentioned earlier, it reflects not only on our global presence but also on our customer base. And research shows that companies that have more diverse workforces outperform and out-innovate those that don’t.
For example, companies in the top quartile of the workforce on diversity are 33 percent more likely to financially outperform their less diverse counterparts, according to a 2018 study from McKinsey. We have been embracing diversity, which aligns with our core values. It’s the right competitive strategy. It’s going to allow us to compete in the marketplace and relate to our customers best.
Gardner: Is Vertiv an outlier in this? Or is this the way the whole industry is going?
Dive into competitive talent pool
Dowd: This is the way whole industry is going. I come from a line of IT companies prior to my tenure with Vertiv. Even the biggest, the most established companies are still wrestling with the competitiveness affiliated with the tracking of candidates that have diversity of thought, diverse backgrounds, diverse behaviors, and diversity on ethnicity and gender as well.
The trend is toward engineering and services, and everywhere we are experiencing turnover because it’s so competitive. It’s a very competitive environment. We are competing with brother and sister companies for the same types of talent.
As I mentioned previously, if we attract people who are diverse in terms of thought, ethnicity, and gender we can expand our candidate pool and enhance our competitiveness. When our talent acquisition team looks at talent, they are expanding and enhancing diversity in our university relations and in our recruiting efforts. They are targeting diverse candidates as we hire interns and then folks that are later in their careers as well.
Gardner: We have been looking at this through the demand side, but on the supply-side, what are the incentives? Why should people from a variety of backgrounds consider and pursue these IT careers? What are the benefits to them?
Dowd: The career opportunities are amazing. This is a field that’s growing and that is not going to go away. We depend on IT infrastructure and data centers across our world, and we’re doing that more and more over time. There’s opportunity in the workplace and there are a lot of things that we are specifically doing at Vertiv to keep people engaged and excited. We think a lot about attracting talent.
But there is another piece, which is about retaining talent. Some of the things we are doing at Vertiv are specifically launching programs aligned with diversity.
So recently, and Angie has been involved in this, we have a women at Vertiv resource group called Women at Vertiv Excel (WAVE). And that group is nurturing women, encouraging more women to pursue leadership positions within Vertiv. Really it looks at diversity in leadership positions, but it also provides important training that women can apply in their current positions.
Together we are building one Vertiv culture, which is a really important framework for our company. We are creating solutions and resources that make us more competitive and reflect the global market. We find that diversity breeds new and different ideas, more innovation, and a deeper understanding of our customers, partners, employees, and our stakeholders all around the globe. We are a global company, so this is very important to us. It’s going to make us more successful as we grow into the future.
Another thing that we are doing is creating end-to-end management of Vertiv programs. This is new. We continue to improve this. It integrates behavioral skills and training designed to look at the work that we do through the eyes of others. We utilize experiences and talent effectively to grow stronger and stronger teams. Part of this is about recruiting and hiring. It has an emphasis on finding potential employees who possess a diverse experience of thought and perspectives. And diversity of thought comes from field experiences, from different backgrounds, and all of this contributes to our values as an employee in our organization.
Together we are building one Vertiv culture, which is a really important framework for our company. We are creating solutions and resources that make us more competitive and reflect the global market. We find that diversity breeds new and different ideas, more innovation, and a deeper understanding of our customers, partners, and employees.
We also are launching the Vertiv Operating System. Now this is being created, launched, and built with an emphasis on better understanding of our differences, in bridging gaps where there are differences, and in ways that bring out the best in everybody. It’s designed to encourage thought leadership, and to help all of us work through change management together.
Finally, another program that we’ve been implementing across the globe is called Intrinsic. And Intrinsic supplies a foundational assessment designed to improve our understanding of ourselves and also of our colleagues. It’s a formal experiential program that’s going to help us all learn more about ourselves, what makes our individual values and styles unique, but then also it allows us to think about the people that we are working with. We can learn more about our colleagues, potentially our customers, and it allows us to grow in terms of our team dynamics and the techniques that we are using to manage conflict, stress, and change.
Collectively, as we look at the full continuum of how we behave at Vertiv in the future we are building for ourselves, all of these efforts work together toward changing the way we think as individuals, how we behave in groups, and ultimately evolving our organizational culture to be more diverse, more inclusive, and more innovative.
Gardner: Jaime at eStruxture, when we look at sustainability, it aligns quite well with these issues around talent and diversity because all the polling shows that the younger generation is much more focused on energy efficiency and consciousness around their impact on the natural world — so sustainability. Tell us why the need for sustainability is key and aligns so well with talent and retaining the best people to work for your organization.
Sustainability inspires next generation
Leverton: What we know to be true about the next generation is when they look to choose a career path, or take on an assignment, they want to make sure that it aligns with their values. They want to do work that they believe in. So, our industry offers them that opportunity to be value-aligned and to make an impact where it counts.
As you can see all around us, people are working and learning remotely now more than ever, and data centers are what make all of that possible. They are crucial to our society and to our everyday lives. The data center industry is only going to continue to grow, and with our dependence on energy we have to have a focus on sustainability.
It represents a substantial opportunity to make a difference. It’s a fast-paced environment where we truly believe there is a career path for the next generation that will matter to them.
Gardner: Jaime, tell us about eStruxture Data Centers and your role there.
Leverton: eStruxture is relatively new data center company. It was established just over three years ago and we have grown rapidly from our original acquisition of our first data center in Montreal. We now have three data centers in Montreal, two in Vancouver, and one in Calgary. We are a Canadian pure-play — Canadian-owned, -operated, and -financed. We really believe in the Canadian landscape, the Canadian story, and we are going to continue to focus on growth in this nation.
Gardner: When it comes to efficiency and sustainability, we often look at power usage effectiveness (PUE). Where are we in terms of getting to complete sustainability? Is it that so farfetched?
Leverton: I don’t think it is. Huge strides have been made in reducing PUE, especially by us in our most recent construction, which has a PUE load of sub 1.2. Organizations in our industry continue to innovate every day, trying to get as close to that 1.0 as humanly possible.
We are very lucky that we partner with Vertiv. Vertiv solutions are key in driving our efficiency in our data centers, and we know that progress can be made continually by addressing the IP load deficiency and that is a savings that is incremental to PUE as well. PUE is specifically about the ratio of IP power usage and the power usage of the equipment that supports it. But we look at our data center and our business holistically to drive sustainability even outside of what the PUE covers.
Gardner: It sounds like sustainability is essentially your middle name. Tell me more about that. How did you focus the construction and placement of your data centers to be focused so much on sustainability?
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Leverton: All of our facilities have been designed with a focus on sustainability. When we have purchased facilities, we have immediately gone to upgrade them and make them more efficient. We take advantage of free cooling wherever possible. As I mentioned, three of our data centers are in Montreal, so we get to take advantage of about eight months of the year of free cooling where the majority of our data centers are using 99.5 percent hydro-power energy, which is the cleanest possible energy that we can use.
We virtualize our environments as much as possible. We carefully select eco-responsible technologies and suppliers, and we are committed to continuing to increase our power usage effectiveness without ever sacrificing the performance, scalability, or uptime of our data centers, of course.
Gardner: And more specifically, when you look at that holistic approach to sustainability, how does working with a supplier like Vertiv augment and support that? How does that become a tag-team when it comes to the power source and the underlying infrastructure?
Leverton: Vertiv has just been such a great partner. They were there with us from the very beginning. We work together as a team, trying to make sure that we’re designing the best possible environment for our customers and for our community. One of our favorite solutions from Vertiv is around their thermal management, which is a water-free solution.
Our commitment is to operate as sustainably as possible. Being able to partner with Vertiv and build their solutions into our design right from the beginning has had a huge impact.
That is absolutely ideal in keeping with our commitment to operate as sustainably as possible. In addition to being water-free, it’s 75 percent more efficient because it has advanced controls and economization. Being able to partner with Vertiv and build their solutions into our design right from the beginning has made a huge, huge impact.
Gardner: And, like I mentioned, sustainability is the gift that keeps giving. This is not just a nice to have. This is a bottom-line benefit. Tell us about the costs and how that reinforces sustainability initiatives.
Leverton: Yes, while there is an occasional higher cost in the short term, we firmly believe that the long-term total cost of ownership is lower — and the benefits far outweigh any initial incremental costs.
Obviously, it’s about our values. It’s critical that we do the right thing for the environment, for the community, for our staff, and for our customers. But, as I say, over the long-term, we believe the total cost is less. So far and above, sustainability is the right thing to do.
Gardner: Jaime, when it comes to that sustainability formula, what really works? It’s not just benefiting the organization that’s supplying, it’s also benefiting the consumer. Tell us how sustainability is also a big plus when it comes to those people receiving the fruits of what the data centers produce.
Leverton: Sustainability is huge for our customers, and it’s increasingly a key component of their decision-making criteria. In fact, many hyperscale cloud providers and corporations — large corporate enterprises — have declared very ambitious environmental responsibility objectives and are shifting to green energy.
Women and STEM step IT up
Gardner: Let’s look at the sustainability issue again through the lens of talent and the people who are going to be supporting these great initiatives. Angie, when it comes to bringing more women into the STEM professions, how does the IT industry present itself as an attractive career path, say for someone just graduating from high school?
McMillin: When I look at children today, they’re growing up with IT as part of their lives. That’s a huge advantage for them. They see firsthand the value and impact it has on everything they do. I look at my nieces and nephews, and even grandkids, and they can flip through phones, tablets, they are using XBoxes, you name it, all faster than adults.
They’re the next generation of IT. And now, with the COVID-19situation, children are learning how to do schooling collaboratively — but also remotely. I believe we can engage children early with the devices they already know and use. And with the tools that they’re now learning for schoolwork, those are a bridge to learning about what makes that work. It’s the data center industry. All of our data centers can be a part of that as they complete their schooling and go into higher education. They will remember this experience that we’re all living through right now forever — and so why not build upon that?
Gardner: Jaime, does that align with your personal experience in terms of technology being part of the very fabric of life?
Leverton: Oh, absolutely. I’m really proud of what I’ve seen happening in Canada. I have two young daughters and they have been able to take part in STEM camps, coding clubs, and technology is part of their regular curriculum in elementary school. The best thing we can do for our children is to teach them about technology, teach them how to be responsible with tech, and to keep them engaged with it so that over time they can be comfortable looking toward STEM careers later on.
Gardner: Angie, to get people focused on being part of the next generation of data centers, are there certain degrees, paths, or educational strategies that they should be pursuing?
Education paths lead to STEM careers
McMillin: Yes. It’s a really interesting time in education. There are countless degrees specifically geared toward the IT industry. So those are good bets, but specifically in networking and computers, there’s coding, there is cyber security, which is becoming even more important, and the list goes on.
We currently see a very large skill set gap specifically around the science and technology functions. So these offer huge opportunities for a young person’s future. But I also want to highlight that the industry still needs the skill sets, the traditional engineering skills, such as power management, thermal management, services and equally important are the trade skills in this industry. There’s a current gap in the workforce and the training for that may be different, but it still has a really vital role to play.
And then finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize the fact that there are support functions, finance, HR, and marketing. People often think that you must only be in the science or engineering part of the business to work in a particular given market, and that really isn’t true. We need skill sets across a broad range to really help make us successful.
Leverton: I am an IT leader and have been in this business for 20 years, and my undergraduate degrees are in political science and psychology. So I really think that it’s all about how you think, and the other skills that you can bring to bear. More and more, we see emotional intelligence (EQ) and communication skills as the difference-maker to somebody’s career success or career trajectory. We just need to make sure that people aren’t afraid of coming out of more generalized degrees.
Gardner: We have heard a lot about the T structure, where we need to have the vertical technology background but also we want those with cultural leadership, liberal arts, and collaboration skills.
Angie, you are involved with mentoring young women specifically. What’s your take on the potential? What do you see now as the diversity is welling up and the available pool of talent is shifting?
McMillin: I am, and I absolutely love it. One of the things I do is support a women’s engineering summer camp probably much like Jaime’s daughters attend, and other events around my alma mater, with the University of Dayton. I support mentoring interns and other early career individuals, be they male or female. There is just so much potential in young people. They are absolutely eager to learn and play their part. They want to have relevance in the growing data center market, and the IT and sustainability that we talked about earlier. It’s really fun and enjoyable to help them along that journey.
There are two key themes I repeat. One is that success doesn’t happen overnight. So enjoy those small steps on the journey, learn as much as you can, and don’t give up. The second is keep an open mind about your career, try new things, and doors you never imagined will open up.
I get asked for advice, and there are two key themes that I repeat. One is that success doesn’t happen overnight. So enjoy those small steps on the journey that we take to much greater things, and the important part of that, is really just keep taking the steps, learn as much as you can, and don’t give up. The second thing is to keep an open mind in your career, being willing to try new things and opportunities and sometimes doors are going to open that you didn’t even imagine, which is absolutely okay.
As a prime example, I started my education in the aerospace industry. When that industry was hurting, I switched to mechanical. There is a broader range of that field of study, and I spent a large part of my career in automotive. I then moved to consumer and now I am in data center and IT. I am essentially a space geek and car junkie engineer with experience in engineering, strategy, sales, portfolio transformation, and operations. And now I am a general manager for an IT management portfolio.
If I hadn’t been open to new opportunities and doors along my career path, I wouldn’t be here today. So it’s an example for the younger generation. There are broad possibilities. You don’t have to have it all figured out now, but keep taking those steps and keep trying and keep learning — and the world awaits you, essentially.
Gardner: Angie what sort of challenges have you faced over the years in your career? And how is that changing?
Women rise, challenges continue
McMillin: It’s a great question. My experience at Vertiv has been wonderful with a support structure of diversity for women and leadership. We talked about the new WAVE program that Erin mentioned earlier. You can feel that across your organization. It starts at the top. I also had the benefit, as many of us I think had on this podcast, of having good sponsors along the way in our career journeys to help us get to where we are.
But that doesn’t mean we haven’t faced challenges throughout our careers. And there are challenges that still arise for many in the industry. In all the industries I have worked, which have all been male-dominated industries, there is this necessity to have to prove yourself as a woman — like 10 times over — for your right to be at the table with a voice regardless of the credentials you have coming in. It gets exhausting, and it’s not consistent with male counterparts. It’s a “show me first” and then “I might believe,” it’s also BS. That’s something that a lot of women in this industry, as well as in other industries, continue to have to surpass.
The other common challenge is that you need to over-prove yourself, so that people know that the position was earned. I always want people to know I got my position because I earned it, and I have something to offer not because of a diversity quota. And that’s a lot better today than it’s been in years passed. But I can tell you, I can still hear those words, of accusations made of female colleagues that I knew throughout my career. When one female gets elevated in a position and fails, it makes it a lot harder for other females to get the chance of an opportunity or promotion.
Now, again, it’s getting better. But to give you a real-world example, if you think about the number of industries where there are women CEOs. If they don’t succeed, boards get very nervous about putting another woman in a CEO position. If a male CEO doesn’t succeed, he is often just not the right fit. So we still have a long way to go.
Gardner: Jaime at eStruxture, what’s been your experience as a woman in the technology field?
Leverton: Well, eStruxture has been an incredible experience for me. We have diversity throughout the organization. Actually we are almost at 50 percent of our population identifying as non-white heterosexual male, which is quite different from what I’ve experienced over the rest of my career in technology. From a female perspective, our senior leadership team is 35 percent women; our director population is almost 50 percent women.
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So it’s been a real breath of fresh air for me. In fact, I would say it really speaks to the values of our founder when he started this company three years ago and did it with the intention of having a diverse organization. Not only does it better mirror our customers but it absolutely reflects the values of our organization, the culture we wanted to create, and ultimately to drive better returns.
Gardner: Angie, why is the data center industry a particularly attractive career choice right now? What will the future look like in say five years? Why should people be thinking about this as a no-brainer when it comes to their futures?
Wanted: Skilled data center pros
McMillin: We are in a fascinating time for data center trends. The future is very, very strong. We know now — and the kids of today certainly know — that data isn’t going away. It’s part of our everyday lives and it’s only going to expand — it’s going to get faster with more compute power and capability. Let’s face it, nobody has patience for slow anymore. There are trends in artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, and others that haven’t even been thought of yet that are going to offer enormous potential for careers for those looking to get into the IT space.
We are in a fascinating time for data center trends. The future is very strong. Data isn’t going away. And nobody has patience for slow anymore. There are trends in AI, 5G, and others that haven’t even been thought of yet.
And when we think about that new trend — with the increase of working or schooling remotely as many of us are doing currently — that may permanently alter how people work and learn going forward. There will be a need for different tools, capabilities, and data management. And how this all remains secure and efficient is also very important.
Likewise, more data centers will need to operate independently and be managed remotely. They will need to be more efficient. Sustainability is going to remain very prevalent, especially edge-of-the-network data centers and enabling the connectivity and productivity wherever they are.
Gardner: Now that we are observing International Data Center Day 2020, where do you see this state of the data center in just the next few years? Angie, what’s going to be changing that makes this even more important to almost every aspect of our lives and businesses?
McMillin: We know now the data center as an ecosystem that is changing dramatically. The hybrid model is a product that’s enabling a diversification of data workloads where customers get the best of all options available: cloud, data center, and edge, as our regional global survey of data center professionals are experiencing phenomenal growth. And we also see a lot more remote management to operate and maintain these disparate locations securely.
We need more people with all the skill sets capable of supporting these advancements on the horizon like 5G, theindustrial internet of things (IIoT), and AI.
Gardner: Erin, where do you see the trends of technology and human resources going that will together shape the future of the data center?
Dowd: I will piggyback on the technology trends that Angie just referenced and say the future requires more skilled professionals. It will be more competitive in the industry to hire those professionals, and so it’s really a great situation for candidates.
It makes it important for companies like Vertiv to continue creating environments that favor diversity. Diversity should manifest in many different ways and in an environment where we welcome and nurture a broad variety of people. That’s the direction of the future, and, naturally, the secret for success.