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November 24, 2015updated 21 Oct 2016 5:33pm

Data centre market disruption has only just started

C-Level briefing: Breaking down artificial barriers is just the first required step to address a shifting market, Arun Shenoy the new VP in charge of Schneider Electric’s UK IT Business warns that the industry must learn and mature fast

By Sam

Artificial barriers between IT and facilities persist, there is poor visibility on how assets perform and the data centre sector must learn from established industries if it is to be taken as seriously as critical infrastructure alongside sectors such as power.

Arun Shenoy has taken over the running of Schneider Electric’s IT business in the UK. A long time data centre executive Mr Shenoy has seen the industry change but believes there is much further to go.

Schneider Electric is a French headquartered, privately owned firm best known for its industrial scale power products such as switches and uninterruptable power supplies. It also sells cooling products for large industrial use.

It is a $25bn revenue company. A major market for it is the data centre space. In this space, as well as power and cooling products it has a large software arm which develops monitoring software in what is known as the DCIM space (Data Center Infrastructure Management) and it sells pre-manufactured modular data centres.

Schneider Electric’s IT business is the lead business globally for the data centre division.

A data centre can be a standalone physical building which houses server, network and storage and provides the required power, cooling and connectivity. It can also be a standalone module such as a shipping container.

So it can be a large capital asset or a product. Who owns it, operates it and pays for it can be very different in different organisations but the main participants inside the data centre are those in facilities and IT.

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"Part of the challenge for the data centre industry over the last 20 years has been this big separation, which has been artificial in some ways, between the IT community and the facilities community," says Mr Shenoy.

Although they are very different disciplines there should be an expectation of a higher level of integration between the two than currently exists.

Each has very different approaches to build outs, capital planning, opex and technology. Both have exactly the same challenges but who solve them in very different ways.

"The stack is very important. We want to have much more visibility in the hand off between the physical infrastructure and the IT infrastructure, it would be better to have a better level of integration between facilities and IT. There should be an expectation of a high level of integration between those two," he says.

IT tends to have and offer much more dynamic infrastructure management. On the facilities side you can’t bring in a tenth of a transformer every time you need more power. You have to bring in the whole transformer. And therefore high levels of automation, certainly from a process standpoint, shoud be of interest to everyone in the market, says Mr Shenoy.

New cloud data centres for new cloud players
The part of the data centre sector that gets most attention is the Web scale highly capital intensive buildings or campuses that span tens of thousands of square metres and require tens of mega watts of power.

And while Mr Shenoy still expects Schneider to be on the bidding list to supply equipment for these projects he also sees the industry shifting from the mega hub to the edge.

The market is moving in 2 or 3 different directions at once, he says.

Around three years ago there was a school of thought that the industry would consolidate to relatively few mega scale data centres. That’s been proved for one part of the market such as Google, Microsoft or Amazon where it has been a very viable model.

But says Mr Shenoy, those mega scale multiple mega watt data centres are good for pushing apps and content out to users at the edge of the network.

It is fine, he says, if we assume that those users are consumers or content, so it is essentially a one way traffic system.

But what happens as IOT develops? Take the 8.5 billion internet subscribers who today are sitting on an architecture that is largely big data centres and a many tiered network out to the edge. One of the IOT challenges is going from 8 billion to roughly say 50 billion connections. "Most new IOT devices will produce content, at which point the argument becomes that the small collection of hyper scale mega data centres is probably not the right way to meet the need."

Data centre at the edge

It is the telcos, believes Mr Shenoy who will become the infrastructure suppliers for the new IOT generated data. But he says though they will be cloud providers ‘they’ll end up in the cloud in a very different way to some of the large cloud players in existence today.’

"We will see very large infrastructure deployments as the telcos modernise, and we will see the emergence of edge infrastructure."

"The telcos are going to be the next big entrants in this market. They have to modernise their infrastructure, if they don’t they will find it hard to thrive as a business. Not only do they have to invest in that infrastructure modernisation they also have to change the kinds of services and content they take to the consumers. That by definition means they will have to get into the cloud business."

What that means for Schneider is supplying a different product set. "At the very edge of the network, we’ll probably take a much more off-the-shelf approach, because customers will buy hundreds of units. So if you are building a large scale highly distributed infrastructure, you are not going to spend a lot of time implementing one off bespoke solutions as you would if you build a one off 20MW facility. You may expect something that is off-the-shelf of even a product such as a data centre in a box," he says


The industrialisation of the data centre has been an ongoing theme for several years as the market needs shifted and client firms got smarter. Factors such as the availability of cloud services, the demand for greater transparency and the business focus shift to opex models have led suppliers to productise and commoditise. But while Shenoy embraces this new market environment he also has a warning.

"There will always s be an ongoing commoditisation discussion around which parts of infrastructure on both sides will become commodities. And how fast. And this should happen. There is nothing wrong with commoditising. But commoditisation sometimes also comes with risk. If you buy simply on price you might create this other iceberg issue. You might have a very low capex but will probably pay for it over the lifetime of the product and that needs to become a bigger part of the discussion."

Future paths

Mr Shenoy says there is much that could be learnt from process industries and those running facilities such as oil or gas rigs and refineries or power stations. "There is a lot we could learn about from the conditions experienced in other industries."

Gaining visibility into the asset has obvious value and is a focus for Schneider going forward but building a data centre that is agile and responsive to workloads and conditions still presents significant challenges.

"I would like to know how my data centre is going to behave, over the lifetime of the asset, in whatever way I choose to use it. Is that a difficult thing to do? In many ways, no it is not."

"If I had to say what is the promise from Schneider, it is that the infrastructure we build is more reliable, efficient and much more predictable. IT is starting to have a greater influence over physical infrastructure. And that’s welcome. But a flexible infrastructure is not a trivial thing to do."

Predictability is key.

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