Big Interview

Macquarie Telecom – Growing your own

David Hirst - Macquarie Telecom 16.9.jpg

Macquarie Data Centres’ David Hirst speaks to Natalie Bannerman about the mega trend that is hybrid IT, and why it is taking a ‘grow your own’ approach to bridging the skills gap.

As group executive of Australia’s Macquarie Data Centres, David Hirst leads the company’s activities in the data centre area. He says the past two years working under Covid-19 conditions have played its part in how the company has continued to do business.

“Our borders were closed, so a lot of the skilled labour we import from overseas couldn’t come into the country any more. While there are a lot of good-quality Australian workers and others that have residency in Australia, that pool is finite.”

Combined with this labour shortage that is affecting many other businesses as well as Macquarie is the fact that working from home means staff have been unable to see each other face to face.

“In 2020 we spent a lot of the time working from home. Interviewing from home and trying to embed culture into an organisation when you haven’t met the people, or their direct reports and so forth, has been difficult.”

Overall, while work has been done on ensuring business continuity, and advancing the technology and the development of its data centres, Hirst says: “It takes people to grow a business and have the right culture. I spend a lot of my time focusing on that, making sure that we have great employee engagement and that everyone understands the values and the behaviours that we expect while working remotely.”

Over this period the company built two data centres, one in Canberra and one in Sydney (the second in the city, after the Macquarie Park data centre campus in Sydney’s North Zone) on time and on budget in a pandemic – a testament to its abilities in deploying such infrastructure.

“That’s because we have put a lot of planning in place. This means having a great team, but also making sure we understand risk and we have the right risk mitigation strategies in place to make sure that we have delivered those data centre developments.”

On the technology side of things, Hirst describes data centres as islands that need to be connected to the world.

“The good news is that at Macquarie we have more than just data centre capabilities. We are really the pioneers of SD-WAN in Australia: with over 6,000 sites now deployed and growing, we can provide a better-value-for-money service to corporates within Australia.”

As for Macquarie’s customers, Hirst is seeing some interesting work being done in the area of big data and AI. Alongside these, other big trends include the internet of things (IoT), hybrid IT and supply chain automation – a trend that has been accelerated by the Covid crisis.

“The pandemic has opened the digital world to a whole generation that would not have normally embraced it; it has almost forced them to embrace digitalisation,” says Hirst.

“We have had millions of people ordering stuff from different suppliers, and that has to be centralised. We are seeing huge amounts of data being generated off the back of that. All that information needs to be computed – and clouds, storage devices, don’t live in the sky, they live in data centres.”

These large volumes of data put the issue of security into sharp focus, of course – and, thanks to the group’s government business unit, this is an area it is already very familiar with.

“We are one of very few operators that provide a security gateway to the internet for the federal government of Australia. We have roughly 42% of federal government and cybersecurity customers using our data centres and our secure internet gateway service.”

The biggest benefit of using a provider such as Macquarie for these types of services, aside from the company’s experience, is that it can take a more holistic approach in the delivery of cybersecurity offerings.

“There is this collective benefit that we provide across our customer set, which is that you can take one learning and then apply it to someone else. You can’t be a generalist in the space and hope that your IT manager is going handle it all. You need special services.”

Unsurprisingly, Hirst says that “hybrid cloud is the way of the future”, because not only do you get the best value for money, you typically get the best outcome. The type of workload you have, how it needs to be secured and the type of access you need, will ultimately determine what approach you take.

“There are horses for courses in this hybrid IT journey; it is the current mega trend. We offer not just data centre colocation, but also private cloud, dedicated servers or virtual servers – as well as public cloud through our Azure practice. We are also an expert MSP, one of only a handful in Australia, and through our adviser programme we work out what’s needed for our customers, and what the best-value equation is for them across all the services that we offer.”

This aside, Hirst says that the costs, often falling into the tens – if not hundreds – of millions of dollars to replatform an organisation, along with the risk in doing so, is part of the reason that, for the foreseeable future, hybrid is the way to go.

On the issue of sustainability, Hirst describes it as “critical to our operations”, adding that “our customers demand it from us”.

From an environmental perspective, he says, “you want to have an efficient data centre and have good PUE [power utilisation effectiveness]”.

Second, he says, you need to ensure you have diversity within the workplace, supply chain management, and ethical supply chains.

“The number one thing is safety. For your customers, your staff and visitors to your site. You need to make sure that you’ve got EHS [environment, health and safety] as a full-time position in your business, as well as specialist resources to make sure that you are running it without incident.”

Alongside its strong graduate programmes, the company has adopted a grow-your-own approach to recruitment and the digital skills/labour shortage.

“We kind of have a little bit of a secret sauce here, where we build our own. We hire for culture and cultural fit and we actually test for cultural fit, and values fit. Then we can grow them and train them over time into those roles. And we over-hire – we actually hire more than we need – because we know we are going to promote those people into the business.”

There are four values over at Macquarie: making a difference, being results driven, collaboration and teamwork, and customer service.

Looking ahead, Hirst says that Macquarie is in a “growth phase across our business units” and at present all eyes are on delivering on a major 10MW project for a “world-leading corporation”.

In tandem with this, the company will continue to hire the right people and build out its cybersecurity business. The recent addition of its Super West data centre development at the company’s Macquarie Park data centre campus, taking the total IT load to more than 50MW, underlines its emphasis on growth.

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