Big Interview

A shifting landscape

Giancarlo Giacomello headshot.jpg

Data centre managers are facing profound difficulties. Aruba’s Giancarlo Giacomello talks to Saf Malik about how he meets these challenges proactively and trends to watch for

As data centres are now critical parts of business technology infrastructure, a greater emphasis is being placed on managing them. According to Giancarlo Giacomello, data centre technical project manager at Aruba, the pandemic, a time of great change and uncertainty, forced the industry to rethink how data centres were managed. This began a transition in how data centre managers work and deliver services to their clients.

Aruba is a leading company in this space. Based in Italy, the company has a wealth of experience managing data centres. Its European network consist of more than 200,000 centres in key European markets, such as France, the UK and Germany, and the company says it is a market leader in Czech Republic and Slovakia and has established presences in Poland and Hungary. According to its website, Aruba manages 2.6 million domains, 9.4 million email accounts, and 8 million certified email accounts.

Giacomello says Aruba’s initial challenge during the early days and months of the pandemic “was to continue to deliver optimal, uninterrupted services for customers, even as many data centre personnel were forced to work from home”.

“The next hurdle came about as a result of soaring raw material costs and serious disruption to supply chains, which led to waits of up to 12 weeks or more for crucial components,” he says. Sometimes delivery estimates were not provided which caused open-ended delays to projects, Giacomello says.

Sustainability also became highlighted during the pandemic, prompting action across industries. As the number of companies requesting environmental information grew, data centre operators began to set stringent targets to satisfy their clients’ green requirements.

Shifting priorities

Due to this, Giacomello believes that priorities in the data centre market have shifted, and so there are several new factors that must be considered when managing data centres.

Reliability, resiliency and responsibility have long been key matters for data centre managers, but now sustainability has joined them.

“Data centre operators are now juggling adhering to sustainability standards and ensuring 100% reliability and uptime,” says Giacomello.

While customers still want guaranteed uptimes, they are demanding environmental standards are met too. Giacomello says this is particularly challenging when it comes to adjusting work patterns and ramping up capacity to handle the growing demand for data centre services.

“That’s why it’s important to implement a practical plan to achieve all of these goals at the same time,” he says.

A good first step is for data centre managers to outline explicit policies and protocols in order to keep track of the environmental impact of their facilities’ operations. But when it comes to reducing their impact, Giacomello believes the focus has to be on the amount of energy data centres consume. And this is paramount given how much global wholesale energy prices have risen this year.

The good news is that large strides are being made in sourcing renewable energy for data centres.

“This is particularly helpful for data centres that have been built strategically – in other words near a source of renewable energy, such as hydroelectric energy from a flowing river nearby,” says Giacomello.

Yet there are benefits to prioritising sustainability that are less obvious, Giacomello notes, as it is not only about ethics, but also economics.

As IT managers carry ever-growing lists of requirements when shopping around for data centres – such as having the right certifications, being carbon neutral and guaranteeing uptime – operators must continuously adapt their services to ensure their centres remain attractive prospects.

“This is especially true when considering that under the greenhouse gas protocol [GHGP], data centre operations come under organisations’ Scope 3 emissions, which means they’ll be scrutinising this aspect more than ever,” he explains.

Alongside sustainability and uptime, security also remains crucial when managing a data centre.

Giacomello stresses that this does not just mean digital security and resilience, but physical security. While he accepts that cyberattacks are increasing in size and frequency, safeguarding the physical infrastructure of data centres is equally important, and is an aspect that is sometimes overlooked.

Giacomello says there are several challenges attached to co-location due to the “global, looming economic crisis and rise in inflation” resulting in surges in costs. He notes that the prices of key materials, such as copper and iron ore, have more than doubled over the past few years, and this increased expense adds to the risks co-location operators already face.

Another obstacle is the exponential growth of cloud computing. While this may seem to be a positive development, Giacomello says it is a considerable strain on the data centre market.

“As demand only continues to grow, data centre managers are being asked to find more capacity, and more crucially, the power to meet these needs,” he says.

Despite all of this, Giacomello remains defiant. To him, the demand for the sector’s services and the growth of its market proves that the industry is remaining strong, despite the challenges it faces.

“The industry will likely continue to evolve at an extremely fast rate in response as infrastructure is redesigned and built to be more resilient and efficient,” he says.

Hybrid cloud

Looking ahead, Giacomello thinks the must-have cloud solution for IT managers is the hybrid cloud.

This market, which was worth US$1 trillion in 2020, according to Palo Alto Networks, could enable data centres to play vital roles in the storage, management and computation of data, applications and information in the near future.

“Everyone needs something slightly different from the cloud. And with a hybrid approach, IT managers will be able to tailor their cloud solutions to suit their individual needs,” says Giacomello. “This involves taking the advantages of both the public and private clouds to create secure, scalable and cost-effective answers to their requirements.”

The inherent flexibility of a hybrid cloud solution offers several advantages. It enables IT managers to prepare for all scenarios, including scaling up resources in the event of a sudden or unexpected spike in demand by acquiring additional public cloud capacity, says Giacomello. At the same time, managers can leverage the private cloud or on-premises storage for static long-term workloads.

Giacomello adds that the hybrid model also has economics advantages, which should interest chief information officers under pressure to keep IT budgets in check in the face of rising business costs.

“In leveraging the hybrid cloud, companies can ensure their cloud infrastructure remains lean and cost-effective,” he says.

This approach also provides businesses with higher levels of control over storage and networking infrastructure, which helps with storing sensitive data and workloads. It also means they can lean on a public cloud to store data such as dynamic workloads.

“This also helps organisations to meet regulation and industry standards, as well as generate auditable evidence for this too,” Giacomello explains.

Preparing for outages

With cyberattacks rising and the ongoing energy crisis, Giacomello says organisations are realising that outages are likely. Because of this, investment

in disaster recovery has increased steadily, a trend he expects will continue into 2023.

“[Disaster recovery] is all about how long it takes to get services up and running again,” he says. “Companies are making sure their cloud providers have excellent disaster recovery protocols in place so that any negative consequences can be mitigated as far as possible.”

Giacomello expects cloud-native software will remain in high demand as more businesses migrate to the cloud and will require software specifically designed for use there, while legacy IT frameworks will continue to be

replaced by updated and advanced infrastructure. As a result, the market will rapidly evolve.

The sheer volume of data will continue to grow as well, he says. This will lead to growing demand for machines with enhanced computing power, as operators will constantly seek ways to manage information effectively and efficiently.

“Efficiency is the name of the game here,” Giacomello says. “Speed and power have always been of the essence in this industry, and we’re seeing ‘efficiency’ come to mean speed, processing power and energy efficiency.

“Environmental impact and level of service will continue to intertwine in the data centre industry until they can no longer be considered separate concepts.”