We ‘Deep Dive’ with Paul Harrison, Senior Consultant Engineer, Future Facilities, who tells us about life inside and outside the office.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement in the data centre industry?
Two achievements stand out, and I’m unable to choose the most memorable. I was awarded Data Centre Dynamics Young Mission Critical Engineer of the Year 2016 and awarded the Datacloud Young Engineer of the Year 2019.
I had the opportunity to present some of my best work when applying for both these awards. This included data centre optimisation projects and research and development work to improve our 6SigmaDC simulation software suite.
I showed how one client was able to reduce their cooling system power by 48% and my R&D work helped to improve the accuracy of IT airflow modelling.
I felt very proud to have my work recognised by big industry names. I’m also pleased to still be considered young.
What first made you think of a career in technology/data centres?
I fell into the data centre industry, to be honest. Science and maths were always my strongest subjects, which naturally led me to study mechanical engineering. I started to specialise in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) while at the University of Sheffield because I enjoyed the technical challenge.
After graduating I was looking for jobs that included CFD, which is how I found Future Facilities. I didn’t really know what a data centre was before my first interview and I’ve now spent eight years analysing them in detail.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
Everyone is different, so management style changes depending on the person. Generally, I try and give people direction with their work rather than giving them the answer. I also try to be approachable and make time for people to ask questions if they need help.
I think it’s better to let people work things out for themselves (if time permits!). People have their own experiences, way of working and way of thinking, so prescribing how to work could limit innovation. Also, no one likes to be micromanaged.
What do you think is the current hot talking point within the data centre space?
If we look at UK politics, the biggest issue (ignoring the B word) is climate change. Reducing PUE, energy consumption and water usage aren’t new ideas, but it’s vital that we act now.
Data centres’ carbon emissions are equivalent to the aviation industry, so there’s a responsibility for our industry to improve efficiency.
My experience is that there is a significant amount of energy wasted through poor design, implementation and facility management – we must do better.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
Exercise helps me unwind and deal with stress. I like to attempt physical challenges like triathlons, marathons and big hikes – my biggest challenge was completing an Ironman last year.
I organise the weekly five-a-side football at our company and I try to go for a run/go to the gym every lunch time. Healthy body, healthy mind and all that.
You’re also quite likely to see me down the pub or at a gig with friends.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
Hyperscale data centres. I’ve seen large growth across the world with these as the demand for compute resource has rapidly increased. Whilst this growth is great, it also comes with downfalls. I have seen designs widely rolled out that could have been improved at conception.
I am glad consultants like me can help improve existing sites, but I’d rather we were utilised earlier in the design process to avoid the potentially wasteful consequences of rapid growth.
What are the region-specific challenges you encounter in your role?
We have seen how the UK’s limited real estate affects the expansion of sites. Urban environments not only have limited space, but some facilities must cope with the emissions of neighbouring sites. Some of our studies have investigated how to overcome the issues of site expansion.
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?
Over the last year I have seen a significant increase in clients starting to use the digital twin for operational management. They run simulations on a continual basis to constantly inform their deployment decisions. This has the benefit of using CFD to pre-empt issues rather than using it to fix existing issues.
Recently, there has also been interest in using simulation and automation together to optimise data centre performance. Being able to use automation and a digital twin CFD model to tweak and safely test out scenarios to optimise performance makes a lot of sense.
Finally, I’ve seen more interest in external modelling simulations where people are interested in performance outside the white space (our typical area of interest). We’ve been asked to see how chillers operate in certain wind conditions, or how generator emissions might affect performance.
I expect to see these interests develop in the next 12 months.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a senior position in the industry?
I would recommend they learn to be adaptable as technology and roles can change quickly. Grab opportunities as they arise, to challenge yourself.
Gain an understanding of the fundamentals of different areas of the industry as you need to understand the wider impact of your decisions. Build relationships with others in the industry, as sharing expertise helps everyone.
Finally, and most importantly, find something that is interesting to you.