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 John Hewitt of Vertiv.
John Hewitt joined Vertiv in October 2017 as President of the Americas, with responsibility for operations and business development in the United States, Latin America including Mexico, and Canada. Prior to Vertiv, John held leadership roles at technology companies in the US and abroad, including Vice President and Managing Director at Delphi in Detroit, MI, where he reset the company’s go-to-market approach, product line strategy, and inorganic growth strategies; Senior Vice President and General Manager and other executive roles at TE Connectivity in Philadelphia, PA, Shanghai, China, and Frankfurt, Germany, where he generated above market growth and improved profitability; and executive Finance and Supply Chain roles at Motorola in California and Pennsylvania. John earned a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting from Oklahoma State University, and an MBA in International Business from Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Here’s the full text of John Hewitt’s insights from our Executive Roundtable:
Data Center Frontier: What is the current state of data center rack density, and what lies ahead for cooling as more users put artificial intelligence to work in their applications?
John Hewitt: We’re seeing continued growth in rack power densities above 30 kW due to increased adoption of AI, and this is driving strong demand for liquid cooling technologies. We’re well positioned to meet this demand as a result of the years of R&D organizations like ours have already invested in liquid cooling and the application of liquid cooling in niche markets such as HPC.
As it moves into the mainstream, liquid cooling solutions, and the design and commissioning processes that support them, are maturing quickly, particularly around the integration of liquid into air-cooled data centers, which is the fastest growing segment of the market. Most enterprises will likely turn to colocation to support their high-density racks and we are seeing providers adding liquid cooling infrastructure to some suites to meet evolving customer requirements.
Data Center Frontier: Many industries are experiencing difficulty finding enough skilled workers. What’s the outlook for data center staffing, and what are the key strategies for finding talented staff?
John Hewitt: We’ve been seeing similar shortages for a few years now. There are a few factors contributing to it, starting with something many other industries are coping with – the retirement of the Baby Boomers. This is a huge loss to the workforce, and this is especially true in the data center industry. That generation basically created the modern data center and possess a wealth of institutional knowledge that isn’t easily replaced. That wave of retirements is happening in the midst of a sea change in the data center space, with traditional enterprise facilities evolving and relying on more sophisticated edge deployments and cloud providers who are central to today’s hybrid architectures.
As an industry, we’re addressing the workforce challenge in a few ways. We’re looking at students with non-traditional educational backgrounds and training them for careers in IT. Students who are skilled at creative and critical thinking can bring new ideas and insights, and we can do the rest with effective training and career development. We’re also leveraging the capabilities of the data center – things like artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality – to capture some of that institutional knowledge and automate systems when human capital is lacking.
Data Center Frontier: How have enterprise data center needs evolved during the pandemic? What do you expect for 2021?
John Hewitt: The pandemic has accelerated a migration to the edge of the network that has been happening for several years. When the pandemic hit early last year, the global workforce moved online en masse, and supporting that volume of remote work and computing required fast, reliable, and secure computing close to those workers – in the suburbs and rural areas, removed from traditional computing centers and enterprise data centers. This was happening already due to different drivers, but the pandemic put it on fast forward.
Meanwhile, 5G launched and continues to roll out, and that technology is reliant on IT systems at the edge of the network. It is an overstatement to say the traditional enterprise data center is being phased out, but those facilities are changing – shrinking and becoming more efficient while acting as the hub for new hybrid architectures leaning on the cloud and edge. This will continue in 2021 and accelerate as 5G proliferates.
Data Center Frontier: Edge computing continues to be a hot topic. How is this sector evolving, and what use cases and applications are gaining the most traction with customers?
John Hewitt: The edge is central to everything happening now and in the future in our industry. The need for fast, powerful computing close to the consumer is only going to increase, and organizations that can deliver that computing faster and more reliably are going to race ahead. The nature of 5G makes edge computing critical to telecom providers and is raising foundational questions among providers – including the most foundational question of all: AC or DC? (Or, more accurately, both?)
Retail is increasingly reliant on edge computing to support in-store applications, distribution centers and logistics, and online retail. The pandemic drove massive increases in the use of edge-reliant telehealth applications as doctors and health care providers managed patient health during a year when they couldn’t see their patients. Those behaviors will not just snap back to pre-pandemic routine. Already, hospitals and health networks were becoming more distributed, mirroring the IT industry by moving services out of the hospital and closer to patients. The federal government is deep into a modernization effort that is driving applications to the edge. Educational institutions – from K-12 through higher ed – are relying on computing in classrooms more than ever, and this requires edge computing. The applications are endless, and the list is only going to grow moving forward.