The Data Center Frontier Executive Roundtable features insights from industry executives with lengthy experience in the data center industry. Here’s a look at the insights from Ben Stewart from NTT Global Data Centers Americas.
Ben Stewart is Senior Vice President of Operations at NTT Global Data Centers Americas, responsible for leading critical facility operation, maintenance, security, and customer service delivery. Over his career, Ben has lead operations and engineering teams in both government and commercial markets crafting and implementing innovative efficiencies improving performance while reducing cost yielding optimized solutions enabling scalable growth. Prior to joining NTT, Ben was the Senior Vice President of Engineering for Cyxtera and held senior executive positions at Equinix, Verizon, and Terremark Worldwide. Ben retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after serving 25 years as a commissioned officer.Ben earned a BSEE from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, MSEE from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, and MBA from Monmouth University, and a Ph.D. from Northcentral University. Ben is also a licensed Professional Engineer.
Here’s the full text of Ben Stewart’s insights from our Executive Roundtable:
Data Center Frontier: The COVID-19 pandemic has defined much of 2020. As we enter 2021, what pandemic-related changes are likely to have lasting impact for the data center industry, and why?
Ben Stewart: We’re much more comprehensive in how we manage our resources today, factoring in the very real possibility of losing our critical facility staff to a wave of infections. Personal protective protocols, cross-training, distancing, intense scrutiny over who has site access – when and for how long – are a few examples of the operational improvements we’ve employed during this COVID crisis.
However, is there a good reason to relax any of that when this crisis passes, having no idea when the next calamity may strike? Surely some procedural components may be relaxed, but others are likely to become the new standard operating procedures.
Data Center Frontier: Gartner says many enterprise customers are holding off on major IT spending during the pandemic. Will that continue in 2021? Or will the “digital shift” from COVID-19 prompt enterprises to invest in retooling their infrastructure?
Ben Stewart: We have not observed this reduction in IT spend. The dramatic transition to work from home alone has resulted in higher IT spending, which may not swing back even post-pandemic.
We now realize that the pandemic, which is the forcing function for the “digital shift,” has not and will not be a short-term event. The work-at-home shift has gained momentum and is apt to be more permanent than previously thought. Retooling operations, procedures, and policies are ongoing for many businesses and may become the new normal.
Data Center Frontier: Hyperscale customers are more focused than ever on sustainability and climate change. Will this renewed focus drive meaningful change in the data center industry? If so, what might that look like?
Ben Stewart: Setting aside political and personal views, if you subscribe to the Kaya identity (look it up here if you like), the only two viable levers that will influence reduced climate change are carbon and energy intensity. In other words, we must produce and use energy that is less carbon-intensive and develop and use less energy-intensive devices. Just as the pandemic drove the “digital shift,” there needs to be some forcing-function to ignite intense efforts to reduce carbon and energy intensity.
What will that forcing function be? We don’t pretend to know, but there will be one, and those in this industry who have been and continue to be focused on sustainability and climate change will be best positioned and prepared for that next evolution.
Data Center Frontier: What will be surprised by in 2021? What are the trends you’re following that will make an outsized impact?
Ben Stewart: Every year holds surprises, and I’m sure 2021 will be no different. Looking back at 2020, who saw COVID coming? And when it came, who forecasted the profound and dramatic changes COVID generated as a forcing-function? The pandemic completely surprised us in ways we’re still coming to understand. As a positive example, look at how the pandemic forced a change in our energy use impacting changes in our environment? And how lasting might those changes be?
The surprise in 2021 will likely be discovering all the still unknown ways this pandemic has and will impact our industry. The pandemic is far from over, and its impacts will indeed persist long after the contagion calms.