As the data centre landscape changes, it is becoming increasingly more important to make sure you are asking the right questions and including all stakeholders when considering your data centre options. As we see continue to see the disconnect between design and operation, our Associate Director, Steve Lorimer, highlights why we, as consultants, need to challenge our customers in understanding what they are trying to achieve, rather than taking briefs at face value. You can read the article below or see the full magazine here.
Traditionally, the design of new data centres has been at the forefront of clients’ minds when procuring new IT infrastructures. Meanwhile the less glamorous maintenance and operation element is put on the backburner until, in some cases, after the build is complete.
In recent years this has led to data centre systems that are excessively expensive and unable to perform in the long-term. The industry has been relatively slow in resolving this but now, more than ever, clients need greater insight to help them navigate the wealth of solutions on the market while minimising costs.
Last year we aimed to do this through the launch of our specialist consultancy division. We recognised the need to join our FM and design and build offering as a service, that can guide clients in considering both elements right from the outset. Since then, it’s proved to be the panacea clients didn’t know they needed.
IT is increasingly integral to companies’ wider business strategies as well as their dayto-day operation. Even now, high-profile examples of server downtime are acting as huge reputational issues affecting stock prices and customer perceptions. This is only set to continue as businesses grow their reliance on big data, automation and systems underpinned by highly available systems.
Often end-users have a preconceived idea of what they want for their data centre system. From a design perspective this can be any number of in-house, co-located, cloud systems or hybrid solutions. Often they are blinded to new technology on the market and the latest cutting edge systems. Stripping the process back to the fundamental question, ‘what do you want to achieve?’ is more vital than ever.
Clients have never been faced with a range of options as broad as they are today. Navigating this with them can show clients that initial plans, and the combination of new technology they want to include, may be too expensive, or, in the worst cases, not meet their objectives when maintenance and design are factored in.
Too often the industry simply takes the brief from clients without challenging it. We now work with clients before they put design and build tenders out to the market – working alongside internal teams to develop a system that meets their needs, is future-proof and is cost efficient in the long term.
As one example, one of the biggest operational costs clients face in running their own in-house data centre is cooling and failure of this can result in significant downtime. Design teams will often aim to ensure that cooling systems are optimised across rack space but, when it comes to operation – FM teams need to be in the loop to work out whether different permutations of cooling systems will be easy to access and maintain.
As the industry attempts to meet best practice guidance set out by the BS EN 50600 standard, collaboration will become even more important. With both design and maintenance considerations in the guidelines, simply having one party at the table is unable to produce a cutting edge data centre any longer. Particularly if clients are tempted to overinvest in new technology without considering their current and expected capacity needs and the long term maintenance costs of these systems.
Our Associate Director, Jon Healy, sat down with DCS Europe to discuss market observations, our new services and the success of the business over the last year. You can read excerpts from the conversation below or see the full article in the summer edition of DCS Europe.
Keysource is an international provider of solutions for business critical environments, including data centres. We have 35 years’ experience partnering with our customers to provide solutions and services that enable their technology requirements.
Our work spans the full lifecycle of the critical environment providing an ability to leverage a wide range of capability within the business.
As an Associate Director, and a member of the senior management team, my team and I are responsible for existing and new customer engagements, understanding the best way we can help customers and how our capabilities are best utilised.
Our passion is in understanding our customers’ businesses and how they use technology in order to deliver their objectives and drive benefits, often taking some innovative thinking to get there.
As technology changes so do the demands of the market and our customers’ requirements. We’ve continued to adopt a fresh strategy year-on-year to be able to continue meeting this.
The most significant change to the business in the last 18 months has been the development of our consultancy and professional services offering.
This approach allows us to work with our customers to better understand their data centre needs, including how they use and deliver these services, whether this be internally, externally or both.
In our view, having an understanding of how data centres fit within wider business objectives is now vital. And as customers’ adoption of virtualisation, cloud and other platforms continues, our role is becoming increasingly critical.
We’re very much of the view that given the normally significant investment and the long term nature of these solutions, they need to meet the customer’s needs both now and in the future. Working back from the application layer and infrastructure selection, where possible, enables a more informed and strategic process when it comes to both specifying the build of a data centre and assessing its future operation requirements.
Building on our critical facilities management offering, our additional service lines that support IT and network services have organically grown through long-term customer partnerships. We’ve seen these provide benefits akin to a managed service while also giving customers operational benefits including better efficiency and higher availability.
We also joined the Styles&Wood Group towards the end of last year. This has allowed us to offer a much wider range of property services to our customers while also providing critical environment expertise to new and existing customers from across the Group.
We have structured our business to support our customers throughout the critical environment lifecycle.
Our consultants and professional services teams support strategy development, auditing, discovery exercises, and assessment of operational environments. We also advise clients during design-stages with a range of pre-construction services including business cases, permission and approvals, design development and tender creation.
Keysource’s project teams deliver critical projects from small works to major data centre builds with a range of flexible services. These include project management, turnkey construction, operational upgrades, and transformation as well as a full range of end-of-life services.
To complement this Keysource provide a full range of critical environment operational services through our facilities management specialism. From security, maintenance planning and management, to reactive on-site support, monitoring and optimisation. These are often tailored services to meet specific needs of the customer or operation.
For a recent contract, we were appointed right at the beginning of a client project. This meant we were involved in, and had an appreciation of, the broader business objectives and establishing the strategic need for the data centre.
Often these business objectives have a cost, time and risk implication. By discussing these openly with the customer and working with their in-house team to develop the brief and key deliverables, we were able to advise on a range of potential models with the client and ultimately arrive at the best approach to meet their needs.
Our consultants provide a wide range of services from market advice, strategy development, assessment services, transformation planning and design development.
The great thing about having a platform which brings together Keysources’ specialist consultants with client IT and facility teams is that decisions are so much more informed. As a result, the collective output quality is extremely high and clients can typically achieve better delivery while minimising cost and risk.
Development in the sector is as interesting as ever and there are a few different themes that will influence a change in how data centres are approached in the coming years.
Firstly, the ever growing cloud offering, facilitated by hyperscale data centre players, are evolving to better tailor their services and the way they are delivered, with need for data centre availability not necessarily always being a priority. Instead we expect to see more customers focus on flexibility to better accommodate an ever evolving IT-infrastructure layer and the ability to drive commercial efficiencies while maintaining service levels.
Questions around how the sector can provide the infrastructure for the Internet of Things (IoT), and the emergence of industries such as smart buildings, self-driving transport and consumer automation are also going to play a huge role in driving change. We expect growth in ‘Edge’ data centres and therefore identifying a need for regional presence will become prominent over the next 12 – 18 months. Professional data centre operators are already considering their strategies with this in mind and we expect this to continue.
Meanwhile legislation and regulations will continue to influence the market and the likes of the General Data Protection regulation (GDPR), information security and Brexit will continue to be factors in the decision making process.
There is also an ongoing focus on resilience at the application layer, and the way this is enabled can now take many different forms. As a result, the hybrid-approach that many have already adopted is set to continue as businesses look to respond to challenges in both the data centre market and their own industries.
One thing is for sure with no silver bullet in sight for customers. Navigating the endless options and aligning these with wider business strategies will be crucial in the success of any project requiring data centre services.
Keysource is always looking ahead to understand how we can better support our customers with foreseen trends and the challenges that emerge alongside.
Strategy and approach are key to what physical assets and service are procured in order to deliver on customers’ requirements. And, support from trusted partners will continue to be needed.
One thing is for certain, our need to continue to innovate is key in order to provide the different ways of thinking and agility to a situation or problem.
Following on from our blog last month on how we are trying to bridge the growing skills gap in the technical and engineering industry, we are proud to announce that we have successfully retained our Investors in People certification.
Valid for three years, this certification recognises our continuing commitment to staff development, training and wellbeing. As part of the process the company received special praise for the motivation of its people, its strong communication across all levels and its support for staff development.
The Investors in People Standard provides a practical framework for improving business performance and competitiveness through good practice in people management. We were first awarded the accreditation in 2009, joining 22,000 like-minded companies in the UK.
Stephen Whatling, Managing Director at Keysource, said:
“Our people are our most important asset and are key to our objective to be the ‘Critical Services Provider of Choice’. Over the last 12 months there have been some major changes at Keysource, the most significant of which was our acquisition by Styles&Wood Group Plc. It was really important for us to be able to continue communicating and developing our teams throughout this period, which has been reflected by the great feedback we received during this assessment. As part of the Styles&Wood Group we have even greater access to initiatives to support our people, including training programmes and flexible benefits packages.”
Robin Simpson of Investors in People South of England said:
“Maintaining accreditation against the Investors in People Standard is challenging for any organisation and is testimony to the continuing commitment of Keysource to its employees. This is especially noteworthy following a period of transition. The Company’s support for staff development and the open communication with its workforce are particular highlights, and bode well for continuing success in the future.”
Digital disruption, the fourth industrial revolution, whatever you call it, businesses, customers and markets around the globe are all feeling the impact of rapid evolution and innovation in the digital space. Naturally this having a significant impact on technology – which we’ll discuss in more detail next month – but, there’s also a more human consideration, in the form of a growing digital skills shortage. The industry needs to tackle this head on to combat the decline in new STEM specialists.
With the boom in digital services we are seeing an unprecedented increase in the amount of data uploaded, stored and accessed online. Cisco predicts that by 2020 internet traffic will reach 2.3 Zettabytes (ZB) per year or 193 Exabyes (EB) – equivalent to 193 billion gigabytes – per month.
This carries with it an ever-increasing need for data centres. As a result, we have seen the accelerated development of new server technology and supporting infrastructure, as businesses and data centre operators strive to create more capacity within their existing data centre footprint. With new technology, and the associated demands for development, refurbishment and long-term maintenance of the UK data centre estate, the issue of skill is now more inextricably linked to performance than ever.
Recently we’ve seen Microsoft moving towards micro data centres and large manufacturers like Schneider responding with their “Smart Bunker” solution. For the teams here this is our bread and butter and our consultants and engineers continually train to stay on top of the latest market developments.
However, attracting, training and retaining skills is an issue the sector has traditionally struggled with. Gartner estimates that in Europe alone, the skills deficit will lead to a shortage of 90,000 IT professionals by 2020. Engineering UK’s 2016 report claimed that this shortage in the technical and engineering field will be even higher – the UK will need to find 182,000 people with engineering skills every year to 2022 to simply meet requirements.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills attributes the wider shortage to a reduced number of students studying IT and technology subjects. Within the critical environments sector, we find that this is compounded by a lack of awareness of the data centre sector as a career route – even among those who have chosen engineering subjects.
So what can we do as an industry to try and combat the current skills shortage and drive awareness for the future?
At Keysource we understand the importance of investing not only in our consultants and engineers but all of our team members. We offer company sponsored training and fully-subsidised education as a benefit to make our teams specialists in their field. In the last year alone we’ve subsidised employees’ undergraduate and post-graduate degrees, provided over 200 hours of professional training, and mentored six staff as they reached Chartered status in their fields.
We have recently begun the roll out of a new Apprenticeship Scheme, which aims to support young people through a combination of workplace experience and training, as well as classroom sessions to drive the next generation of engineers and technical workers. As part of our wider aim of attracting talent to the sector, Keysource will also be implementing a new Critical Environment Graduate Scheme and will be attending a number of graduate and higher education careers fairs thought out the year in order to try and drive awareness of the critical environments sector.
Up-skilling our engineers enables us to add value to our customers by reducing the number of technicians needed on site to carry out works. It also makes Keysource a great place to work. We invest in our team’s training and long-term professional development.
We recognise that customer service is as much about our people as it is SLAs. Investing to attract and retain the best talent in the industry is not just about future-proofing our business, it’s about ensuring best value for customers and supporting the wider development of the industry.
Published in the Winter Data Centre Management Magazine, our Head of Design; Stephen Lorimer looks at resilience and how the industry mindset needs to change.
A common definition of ‘resilience’ is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’. When applied to the data centre sector it is more commonly accepted as: the ability of an IT infrastructure to continue to operate, for example following an issue such as power outage, equipment failure or human error.
There is a general misconception that all data centres should be highly resilient. In fact, I lose count of the times that customers have started initial meetings by requesting a “Tier III or Tier IV facility and, above all, absolute protection against any data loss.” Quite often by the end of the initial engagement they realise that they are already achieving the redundancy they need within their IT layer and can normally operate safely with a lower resilience classification.
Historically organisations have often made the mistake of designing highly resilient data centres without properly considering why and whether or not they actually need them to be highly resilient. As a result they have ended up with, at best, facilities that have been both expensive to construct and continue to be operationally expensive, and unnecessarily complex, to operate.
At the heart of this problem is the fact that decisions about the resilience of supporting M&E infrastructure are often made without any proper consideration about what level of availability the IT service is actually required to deliver. To do this involves taking a step back and looking at the wider IT strategy – an approach that is endorsed in the EU Code of Conduct which clearly states that organisations should “deploy resilience in line with requirements.’
This failure in approach can happen for a number of reasons, but the most common one we see is that organisations do not engage with a specialist. Whilst in-house teams are often extremely competent, data centre design is rarely their ‘core skill’ so the end result may not always meet and sometimes contradicts the company’s IT objectives.
For those occasions where design and build is the best option we, as an industry, need to put more of a focus on ensuring that data centres are ‘designed for operation’ and the team responsible for maintaining and running the facility is engaged from the outset. As an organisation we encourage different stakeholders, to be part of the process from the outset, as we feel that this delivers the best results. This early engagement is key as not having all the stakeholders involved may mean that not all impacts are properly considered and addressed as part of the design…