Vertiv CEO on the future of critical infrastructure
Rob Johnson, a data centre veteran with more than 25 years of experience, took over the leadership role at Vertiv as the company transitioned from a business of Emerson to a stand-alone organisation. In the following Q&A, he shares his insights on his organisation and the industry.
You are six months into your role as CEO of Vertiv. How are things going?
RJ: I was fortunate to join an organisation with incredible depth of talent and significant resources. We entered this phase of our evolution with a strong portfolio of product brands, a great customer base, a global footprint and an unrivalled service organisation.
Operating as a stand-alone company has allowed us to focus our vision and bring our resources and solutions to our customers in a more streamlined way.
We like to describe ourselves as a ‘$4 billion startup’ because we have the energy and innovation of a young company and the resources and expertise of a market leader.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry?
RJ: I won’t take you back 25 years, but just in the last ten we’ve seen the widespread adoption of virtualisation, new technologies and designs that minimise energy consumption, the convergence of IT and telecommunications, the emergence of the cloud, and, most recently, an increased focus on the edge of the network.
If you’re looking for a predictable, slow-moving industry, this isn’t it. One of the most exciting aspects of leading a business that serves the data centre industry is the constant innovation as suppliers and operators collaborate to build faster and operate less expensively—while maintaining the highest level of availability.
Today, much of that innovation is being driven by the needs of cloud providers
What are the key infrastructure issues facing the cloud and colocation markets?
RJ: The cloud is growing in importance and becoming the backbone of the global economy. That is increasing the pressure to manage costs, eliminate downtime and expand capacity. Fundamentally, cloud and colocation providers have the same issues as other data centre operators, only amplified. They need robust, high-availability infrastructures to support their customer base.
At the same time, they need to keep tight control over costs. Fortunately, new technologies and designs are allowing those seemingly conflicting objectives to be reconciled.
For example, data centre energy costs have been significantly reduced through the use of higher efficiency thermal management units, more sophisticated thermal controls and expanded use of free cooling. UPS systems also now feature intelligent controls that enable them to achieve efficiencies that weren’t possible five years ago.
The other issue that is particularly acute in the cloud and colocation market is the need for speed. There is still an opportunity for operators who can add capacity quickly to gain first-mover advantage. This has driven a reevaluation of the traditional data centre development process, which is now being compressed through increased preengineering and integration.
Being able to integrate systems off-site has tremendous advantages in terms of speed and efficiency and this principle has been extended to data centres of all sizes. They are being completely pre-engineered and fabricated off-site to cut new facility development times by up to 50 percent while achieving greater efficiency, scalability and quality.
Modularity also addresses this need as it provides the ability to add capacity incrementally while maintaining capital efficiency. On the system level, we are delivering modular power and cooling solutions that support this.
There is a lot of discussion in the industry about the software-defined data centre. What role does critical infrastructure play in realising the promise of SDDC?
RJ: The objective of the software-defined data centre is to maximise operating flexibility and critical infrastructure must support that by minimising the
complexity and risk associated with software-defined management. SDN enables widespread load shifting to meet real-time needs across the network, but that’s only possible if the critical infrastructure is flexible and responsive.
We’re enabling that through the use of intelligent controls and holistic and point software offerings that allow entire systems—not just individual units—to adapt as conditions change.
What does the future hold for the industry and for your organisation?
RJ: The industry is continuing to become more important to all aspects of business and society. That’s not going to change, although the technologies deployed and where capacity resides will continue to evolve.
As we move out of the ‘land rush’ phase we’re seeing now with cloud, the providers that thrive will be those that can deliver the combination of availability, scale and cost-effectiveness the market demands. The decisions made today in regard to critical infrastructure will play a defining role in enabling them to achieve that objective.
As an organisation, Vertiv expects to play a major role in supporting the industry as it advances, regardless of how the technology evolves.
We have the expertise, resources, and product mix to work closely with our customers through every stage of the data centre lifecycle, from design, construction and commissioning to optimisation and maintenance.
Through our expertise, innovation and services we can not only provide unparalleled support for our customers but also help shape the future of the industry as it becomes more dynamic and efficient.
This article originally appeared in the Data Economy magazine. To read more on data centres, cloud and data, visit here.