Today we continue our Data Center Executive Roundtable, a quarterly feature showcasing the insights of thought leaders on the state of the data center industry, and where it is headed. In today’s discussion, our panel of experienced data center executives weighs in on the pandemic recovery effort and what it means for the resumption of data center tours and in-person events. Our panelists include Jeff Klaus of Intel, Amber Caramella from Infrastructure Masons and Netrality, Steve Dick of Emcor Enclosures and Sean Farney from KOHLER Power Systems.
The conversation is moderated by Rich Miller, the founder and editor of Data Center Frontier. Each day this week we will present a Q&A with these executives on one of our key topics.
In today’s discussion, our panel discusses the timetable for the widespread resumption of data center tours and live events. Many operators are resuming tours with social distancing and masks, but events businesses are carefully weighing return dates for in-person conferences. DCD announced last week that its events would remain online for 2021, with its next in-person event in March 2022 in New York. But Informa plans a live Data Center World in August in Orlando, while 7×24 Exchange has scheduled its Spring Conference for June in San Antonio.
Data Center Frontier: Data center tours and conferences are two key elements of doing business in this sector. What’s your sense of when these in-person activities can resume, and how they might be different?
Amber Caramella: Leading indicators hint that our industry will resume in-person data center tours and conferences in Q3 or Q4 of 2021. Even when the climate allows for in-person gatherings, I suspect usage of virtual platforms will persist as organizations have come to appreciate the associated convenience, cost-savings, and ROIs of a digitally connected, remote norm they have grown accustomed to. Many organizations have realized this and are offering optionality when it comes to event attendance. ITW and Channel Connect, for example, have announced their intent to host events in a hybrid capacity – accommodating an expanded audience base of both in-person and virtual attendees.
As with any product or service, you want to see the physical asset you are investing in and meet the stakeholders involved in the transaction. However, the engagement strategy and tools we use have changed in light of the global pandemic. Widespread adoption of virtual meetings, events, and tour platforms have allowed us to remain digitally connected in our physically distanced world. By leveraging technological advancements, we have safely furthered our industry, expanded our reach to a global audience, and accelerated impact.
Thanks to platforms like SwapCard, VFairs, Microsoft Teams, Google, and Zoom, organizations across the world have mastered the execution of virtual gatherings and exposure. Whether a virtual tour, sales kickoff, panel, national/regional event, or awards show, virtual events have enabled wide-spread awareness, impact, and contribution on a global and accelerated scale. In fact, the Infrastructure Masons Awards Ceremony I co-hosted, had the highest attendance to date, with attendees from over 20 countries, and presenters and nominees streaming live across 3 continents. I am excited to move forward in an environment that allows us to engage globally with both digital and in-person events.
Steve Dick: Our business has successfully managed through the pandemic together with our customers, partners, and suppliers for over a year now. While the lessons have been many, business is all about people connecting with people face-to-face. We can never let fear take away from improvement, opportunity, and collaboration. The datacenter industry is an essential workforce and often part of the Defense Industrial Base. We are looking forward to Phase 1C of vaccination so tours and conferences can resume in the datacenter sector. States like Texas and Florida are showing the nation large events can be conducted safely. We anticipate business travel resuming along with conferences and site visits in Q3 2021 in preparation for a strong finish for the year in Q4 2021.
Conferences will be different as we will all have a testing or vaccination story to share. The host venues will be more diligent about cleaning and disinfection. Hopefully, face covering restrictions will have eased where we can see everyone smiling again. Fist bumps and elbow greetings will be more prevalent than traditional handshakes and hugs. What will not have changed for the data center sector is the desire and optimism to learn, explore, and advance by gathering together once again.
Sean Farney: I suspect that by late summer/early fall the combination of widespread vaccination and complete lockdown fatigue will usher in a re-opening of face-to-face industry events.
The data center industry, similar to the trades, is knit together by close working relationships. COVID’s travel restrictions have us starving for connection that a year’s worth of virtual events just hasn’t been able to fulfill. Even pre-quarantine, many of us were attending conferences more for the networking opportunities than the oft recycled content.
Post-pandemic, the industry has an opportunity to shift the desired outcome of filling seats & receiving clicks; an Event, to creating connection and making impact; an Experience. To do this, you bring intimate affinity groups together in a gracious environment, engage in thought leadership exercises, and sprinkle in a little fun.
Jeff Klaus: That will be different times in different locations and I think it’s impossible to pin a start date to it yet.
I would say data center growth is still happening, data center floor space is still a very valuable commodity, and we look for that to continue for a long time.
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