Q&A with Sara Baack, chief product officer, Equinix

Q&A with Sara Baack, chief product officer, Equinix

09 September 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

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Capacity speaks to Sara Baack of Equinix about the company's plan for network edge services and her personal journey navigating the industry as a woman in telecoms.

What are the plans for the network edge services portfolio and the product launch?

In June we announced Network Edge as a new way to deploy virtual, digital-ready, and vendor-neutral network functions on Equinix's global interconnection platform. We designed it to accelerate digital transformation and support network optimisation for global businesses by bringing seamless, low-latency network functions closer to end users, clouds and valuable ecosystems.

Network Edge includes built-in integration to Equinix's global on-demand, SDN-enabled interconnection service, Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric (ECX Fabric). By combining Network Edge with ECX Fabric, customers can deploy virtual edge devices such as routers, load balancers and firewalls, and interconnect them to clouds and network providers located across our global markets – extending their reach to potentially thousands of new business partners around the world.

As we activate Network Edge across our sales organisation, we continue to add new vendors, functions, features and geographic coverage to the portfolio. We want to empower companies to be everywhere they need to be to interconnect everyone and integrate everything that matters to their business.

How will Platform Equinix evolve in light of new architecture and hybrid cloud adoption?

In today’s environment, we are seeing strong demand for a digital and highly interconnected infrastructure, and adoption of hybrid cloud as the architecture of choice. Add to this the combination of secular trends, new technology catalysts, and social and regulatory changes – all of which are accelerating – and we have a market that is rapidly changing and reshaping. In response to these changes, Platform Equinix will continue to be more agile and evolve along with our customer needs.

For example, as customers pursue a globally distributed infrastructure strategy to improve user experience, application performance and access to the public cloud, Equinix will continue to offer and grow our global reach with more locations, more certifications and more IBX data centres. As customers become more focused on hybrid cloud, multi-cloud and interconnection, we will continue to evolve our EXC Fabric, expanding our coverage, use case support, and ecosystem participants accessible on the platform. And as CIOs move from being builders to service integrators, we intend for Platform Equinix to be the place where they can integrate physical and virtual services together and access the tools and partners that they need to thrive.

We’re also dedicated to ensuring that Platform Equinix offers the lowest latency access to the largest hyperscale public cloud providers out there. We recently announced our new xScale data centre initiative intended to develop and operate hyperscale data centres around the world. We’ve formed a joint venture with GIC (Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund) to develop and operate hyperscale data centres in Europe specifically. The U.S. $1+ billion joint venture will enable us to meet larger requirements in locations that are easily accessible from our IBX campuses and will enable hyperscalers to fulfil their growing core workload requirements.

To coincide with the Global Women in Telecoms and Tech Summit & Awards: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced as a women in the telco/tech industry but more importantly how did you overcome them?

We as people, no matter our gender or race or nationality, are similar in a couple of regards.  Firstly, we play more than one role. I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, a telecom/tech executive, a mediocre athlete and occasional gardener.  That’s often hard to juggle, and one thing I tell people is that there is no such thing as “balance”.  You have to do your best to serve all the constituents in your life the best way you can, and you have to learn to live with hard trade-offs and the reality that you are often disappointing someone. 

The second way in which I think people are similar is that they tend to gravitate to those they can identify with. My closest friends outside of work are other mothers working in technology, perhaps because we have shared challenges and experiences and a long history of supporting one another.  But this same kind of tribe behaviour that brings all of us comfort at times can be a big challenge when you are a minority in a group, and it can be really detrimental to teams who work together. What’s important here is for all of us to recognise that diversity (of all types) in an organisation is a powerful lever to drive bottom line results.  And then you have to purposefully introduce ways in which a team or an organisation can reduce unconscious bias that acts against diversity. The best organisations in the industry are the ones acknowledging these issues and taking steps to counteract them. I don’t think I’ve run into many who don’t see opportunities here; they just need tools for action.

It’s also worth pointing out that while being a woman in technology has come with obstacles, for much of my career I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by supportive men who have been fantastic partners, sounding boards and sources of counsel. There are many men who want to support women’s advancement. Certainly, I’ve enjoyed mentorship from men who created stretch opportunities for me and who invested in my development as a leader.

Can you give us an example of a time when being a woman has been an asset in your career?

It’s hard to answer this, as I don’t identify gender as an asset or a liability per se. I have found that having a different perspective and asking a lot of questions has sometimes helped get the teams I have been part of to better outcomes. I have found that I am pretty good at connecting disparate sets of data or inputs or perspectives together and arriving at a new insight.  Is that because I am a woman, or is that because I am myself?  I don’t know. 

I also would say that the challenges I’ve faced throughout my career, from Wall St. trading floors to the boardrooms of Silicon Valley – have bolstered my tenacity and my resilience.  I think I learned early on that “hustle” is critically important. And often it is the people who face the toughest setbacks, that emerge with the most resolve, strength and conviction. That is the silver-lining of trials and setbacks – they can create fortitude and show us we are capable of stretching our previous boundaries.   

What do you think needs to happen in our industry to bridge the gender gap or do you think enough is already being done?

As I mentioned earlier, there is a proven payoff in companies having a diverse workforce. This means focusing on reducing unconscious bias in areas like hiring and promoting. It probably means being more purposeful about your recruiting processes and sources. I think it also means being purposeful about the type of culture you are cultivating – one that promotes inclusion and belonging, and one that not only accepts but celebrates diverse perspectives.

At Equinix we are on a journey to invest behind all of these things. We run a variety of events and initiatives to drive a meaningful dialogue, build leadership skills and promote a collaborative working environment for all our employees. A few of my colleagues founded the Equinix Women Leaders Network (EWLN) several years ago which has been very successful in promoting, connecting and empowering our emerging female leaders.  Happily, since EWLN’s founding, we have seen female applicants for roles at Equinix increase significantly, so we know this is making a difference.

Any tips and tricks on how to work your way up to the C-suite in Silicon Valley’s tech scene?

My tips and tricks are pretty boring!  My dad was a schoolteacher and guidance counsellor, and he always pushed me to generate insight and learning from my own self-reflection, when sometimes I just wanted him to give me an easy answer.  As I become older, I learned from this – and found that if I could go above and beyond reporting and analysis to bring true insight to a situation, that was highly valued. So I believe a great practice for anyone interested in leadership roles is to first look within and apply their own unique experiences and learnings to situations, as well as view them from different angles and perspectives.

Another tip I got from my dad came by way of a lyric from one of his favorite country music songs, “wherever you go in life, there you are”. I’ve built on this and often tell myself and people I work with that wherever you are, whatever your circumstance – make the most of it, give your best effort at that moment, work really hard, and you will make an impact. 

In July, Equinix opened the doors to its eleventh data centre in Tokyo – what other regions are next for expansion?

We are certainly excited about the opening of TY11, which will be the largest data centre in Tokyo and is located close to key venues for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.  But Tokyo is just a small part of our plans.  This year Equinix plans to open 12 new International Business Exchange (IBX) data centres and expand 21 existing IBX data centres.  Upcoming openings include additional IBX centres in Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore and Warsaw.

We are also entering two new markets in 2019. We recently announced a new IBX in Seoul, South Korea, one of the largest economies in the world, with high bandwidth and advanced applications driving many of its industries.  We will also be entering Hamburg, which given its proximity to the North Sea will provide easy access for subsea cable landing stations.

Roadmap for the company in your division for the next 6-12 months?

I’ve already mentioned a lot of the areas of focus we have for evolving Platform Equinix to meet the changing needs of our customers in the throes of digital transformation. In the product organisation, we will continue to scale our colocation and interconnection offerings and are incubating a number of new capabilities that we hope will keep us a step ahead in supporting digital infrastructure needs, both physical and virtual.