We ‘Deep Dive’ with Steve Bowes-Phipps, Senior Consultant in the data centre practice at PTS Consulting, who tells us about life inside and outside the office.
He also sits on the DCA Board and is chairman of the DCA’s Workforce Capability & Development SIG.
In his current role, Bowes-Phipps is involved with all elements of the data centre stack – from strategy to procurement to fit-out to design validation to data centre migrations and operational excellence.
What first prompted your interest in a career in technology/data centres?
In terms of data centres, I kind of fell into that which I think is pretty common amongst my peers.
I was at a credit card bank where I was looking after all the back-end processing and got promoted. The IT director turned around and said ‘you’re now running the data centres’ and I kind of thought ‘who runs the data centres – don’t they run themselves? Isn’t that a facilities thing?’.
Of course, in those days you didn’t have very high-powered equipment, so you could put your servers anywhere and most were the ones I looked after so I managed where they would go.
Then, around 2000 it all started to change when the higher-powered chips started to come in. They used a lot more energy and the traditional data centre power and cooling model couldn’t cope with those high levels of power required.
They just didn’t have the capacity so there was a worry we were advancing to a state we couldn’t actually support.
So then the ‘data centre’ itself became a specialist niche in IT because you now had to put some thought into it. You couldn’t just put servers anywhere – you had to think about whether you could cool them or power them.
As the importance of this increased, I then made that transition into sitting centre stage between IT and the facility M&E.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement within the data centre sector?
I am extremely proud to have won multi-national industry awards while working at a university, for data centre efficiency and operational efficiency.
While at the university, we also entered a higher and further education award called the Green Gowns which focuses on sustainability within the education sector – and there’s a particular award for ‘Green IT’, which is fairly broad, so to win it for my data centre was really special.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I think it’s very nurturing: I work with a range of different people, with different skillsets and different levels of experience.
It’s all about being very explicit in what it is that you need from people and how they can support you. It is also about being very fair and feeding back constantly to make sure they’re on the right path or to check whether they’ve slightly moved off it.
I cannot afford for someone to go off on a completely different route but I also don’t want to micromanage so it’s about striking that balance.
What do you think is the current hot talking point within the data centre space?
With the Edge and Fog, Mist, Cloud, or however you want to label it, software is driving all of the improvements and management of data centres to the point where pretty much everything will have some sort of software management which is just as or even more important than the physical pieces, pulling it all together to work in harmony.
Tomorrow’s cooling engineers and electrical engineers will have to be more adept at the software side than the physical side of things. But nobody is teaching that and organisations that rely on those skills end up running their own courses.
In universities they’re still focused on electrical engineering or mechanical engineering as a specific discipline. But you have to join the IT and engineering side together at all levels. When universities start offering schools of study where you can’t tell the difference between an IT person and an engineer I think they’ve got it.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
Injury aside, I would play tennis once a week but I have got three very young children – a five, four and two year old.
Other than that, reading, music and the occasional computer game.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
For me it would be workforce development and capability. I chair a special interest group on this with the Data Centre Alliance (DCA) and what we are really keen to do is get people to take a bigger interest in wanting to inspire today’s children to want to study technology and engineering and maths and science and see it as a career – their career!
Whatever we can do, however we can do it – it just needs a lot of very passionate people. So it’s got to be homegrown. You can’t wave a magic wand at it. People need to want to do it and they need to have the resources to do it and the time.
That’s where the investment should be, especially when we have so much uncertainty over Brexit about where we’re going get tomorrow’s resources from as we might not have this talent pool in Europe to pull from so companies will struggle unless they can generate that from home.
What are the region-specific challenges you encounter in your role?
Most of the work I do is European. GDPR and Brexit have driven some organisations to rethink their Data Centre Strategy, and then there’s the differences between Northern Europe, Southern Europe and UK/Ireland in terms of product.
In the Nordic countries, for instance, they have a very similar product. They’re trying to sell data centres on the fact they have this large renewable energy and low cost cooling product.
But the network, the backbone Internet connectivity, is one of the crucial elements to a good data centre product and if you don’t have that then you are going to struggle to attract large enterprises.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
After a lot of talk about cloud, which we kind of ignored at first as it was a lot of hyperbole for quite a long-time, it has started now to become a serious consideration in terms of most companies’ IT estates – but many are still quite nervous about it.
They know they need to use cloud but are unsure about how they connect it up to their existing on-premise infrastructure. Cloud requires a very different support paradigm because you are relying much more on a 3rd party and your network connection to it, so you need very good IT service contract managers which organisations don’t tend to have.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a senior position in the industry?
Have a passion for what you do. Find a role that you enjoy, that really inspires you and if you feel like you can make a difference, then that should be enough to motivate you to want to be the best at it.