Editor’s Note: Data center member organization AFCOM interviewed John Parker, data center operations manager at ESRI, on the data center industry and its impact on the world. John is a member of AFCOM’s Data Center Institute (DCI) and he has decades of experience in the data center industry.
AFCOM: This past year, what has been the greatest challenge you’ve had to face within the data center industry? How have you overcome it?
John Parker: The supply chain issues we’ve had over the past couple of years are those we’ve had to pay the closest attention to. Whether we’re ordering new hardware, or any equipment for data center facilities. You need what supplies you need as you go, and it constantly changes: one month it could be power supplies, while another month it could be physical hardware.
And then there’s the shipments. While shipments are getting a lot better, we still must worry about shipping especially because we’re a global company. Shipping tends to vary from country to country, and there are quite a few countries that are still under semi-lockdown from COVID, which means we have to err on the cautious side. You really don’t want to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of hardware or data center equipment just laying on a dock somewhere without someone securing it.
But one of the biggest challenges has been the safety of our employees. During the pandemic, it was easy. Everyone stayed home and remained safe. But in 2022, we started going back to our offices. But which office and which country do you go to, and how do you manage people in this new environment? You know, some people are still leery about going back to the offices with others, right? A lot of people like that have fallen in love with remote work. So, finding a hybrid model to be able to manage people both remote and in the office, all while everyone’s in the midst of a staffing shortage, has been a huge challenge.
AFCOM: How do your data centers interact or give back to their local environments or communities? How do you hope to give back in the future?
Parker: Over the past seven years we’ve been installing solar panels across our campus, and even upgrading and replacing some outdated solar panels we’ve already installed to make things more efficient and sustainable.
Another thing we’ve done is a new sustainability project for our organization that was started two years ago. The entire company is looking at questions like, “Do we really need to ship? What is the best way to ship from Point A to Point B to Point Z? What is the best way that we can combine shipments or reduce shipments to cut back on our carbon footprint?” Our campus of over 4,000 people is looking at ways to improve recycling efforts in all kinds of ways. This even includes donating older hardware monitors and things like that back to local schools, or even donate them to organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army so that they can resell it.
We recently went to a colocation with our primary campus data center. It’s really old and we really waste electricity there. It’s all because of our old hardware, HVAC units, and other outdated things. So, one of the things we did when we looked for colo providers was their sustainability initiatives—not only what they’re currently doing, but what they have for a five-year plan. And other companies and providers are doing the same thing. I have to tell you; our salespeople are telling us that more and more companies are wanting to know what we’re doing for sustainability and green initiatives. And we want to make sure that we’re as green as we can be.
AFCOM: If you could build a data center anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Parker: I’m going to answer this like a politician and just say that, anywhere in the world, it really comes down to this: what do I need in a data center? What are my requirements for keeping it running? What are the business requirements? And then I always look at sustainability and cost. And I make sure not to leave out latency and security and all of the other underlying things.
But if none of those things matter, I would put it in the place where it’d be the most sustainable. Maybe somewhere like Iceland or a data center that’s right next to a nuclear power plant. I just want it to be the most sustainable and earth-friendly.
AFCOM: What recent data center trends have made you the most excited or enthusiastic?
Parker: I really like the hybrid data center models. I also really like the way the data center industry is trending towards automation, AI, ML, and everything offered as-a-service. It’s just making things so much easier on everyone. I’m excited to see how it develops in the next five years.
In general, I greatly appreciate just how much things are evolving overall. People are questioning whether everything needs to be on the cloud, or whether or not they should stick with cloud providers for certain things, and now have a bunch of different options to pursue. Other things like what the “edge” is and where exactly the edge is located is another concept that’s continually evolving. It makes it feel like we’re finally able to actually think about what we’re doing, rather than just reacting.
The most exciting thing to me, though, is seeing companies finally taking cybersecurity seriously. Companies are no longer just waiting for that next big security compromise to occur. My son is in that cybersecurity industry, and he tells me a lot about this, and they’re now being a lot more proactive on hiring the staff and getting the tools to monitor for intrusions, and employees are becoming a lot more educated on monitoring for phishing, for example.
AFCOM: What do you personally hope to accomplish in the next decade? What do you hope the data center industry as a whole is able to accomplish in the next decade?
Parker: Well, I’ve been in the industry for over thirty years, so my #1 goal for the next decade is just this: retire. [Laughs.] Otherwise, I want to keep doing things like this right here: sharing knowledge and experiences on a local and national level with my peers, all in order to give back and pay it forward.
Outside of that, though, I just want us to be a more sustainable company. I love all of the green initiatives that our company and the industry is doing. There’s not a single conference or webinar that I attend for the last few years that doesn’t talk about sustainability.
Data centers are one of the top energy hogs of the world. If we can improve things, we can set a standard for other industries that aren’t the global hogs that we are. That’s one thing I’d love for our industry to accomplish: super energy efficiency with an aim towards sustainability.