Top takeaways from the 2020 Great Canadian Data Centre Symposium

Helping close 2020 on a slightly more positive note was the Great Canadian Data Centre Symposium. Launched by analyst firm InsightaaS and McMaster University’s Computing Infrastructure Research Centre in 2018, GCDCS has evolved each year to deliver thought leadership and professional interaction to IT administrators and professionals. The latest GCDCS event went virtual in December 2020, but that didn’t prevent the folks at InsightaaS from filling the event up with a long list of experts like Mark Monroe, Eugene Roman and Susanna Kass.

Here are some of the top takeaways from the event.

Equinix is ‘betting big’ on Canada

Last June, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) sold 25 data centres held in 13 data centre sites for CA$1.04 billion to U.S. data centre company Equinix, raising a bunch of eyebrows, some questioning the wisdom in dropping more than a billion-dollar investment on a relatively small market.

“We think it’s a logical investment to bet big on the 10th largest economy in the world,” said Equinix Canada Managing Director Andrew Eppich. Canada boasts very affordable electricity in certain provinces and, combined with a generally colder climate, spells out some easy benefits for Equinix, Eppich added.

But Canadian customers also deserved better, he said. The added horsepower from the acquisition will help facilitate customer needs to multiple languages, reach communities outside of the Greater Toronto Area, and answer “a long list of things that were important to Canadians,” Eppich explained. 

One of the lesser-discussed but perhaps equally important elements of the deal with Bell involves the addition of 160 employees and 600 customers. “It creates an immediate ecosystem for us,” he said.

IT can be an organization’s lifeboat in many ways 

Eugene Roman is an IT visionary who has served as an advisor to boards and senior executives and as the IT leader for three iconic Canadian businesses: Bell Canada, OpenText and Canadian Tire. Today he serves as the CIO for Metrolink. When there’s an opportunity to hear Roman speak, without slides, no less, it’s worth paying attention.

He says he’s abandoned the office entirely since last year, opting to work from his lakeshore home near Orillia. He heard both inspiring and painful stories from business leaders as they steered the ship head-first into a global pandemic. Some understood the need to abandon archaic ways of thinking, some did not. IT teams were the glue or “lifeboat” he described. 

“In the past, if you wanted to invest in Teams so people can work from home, you’d be asked, “can you show me a business case?” he said. “No there’s none of that. It’s the opposite – get it done as quickly as possible cause we’re dying. My hat goes off to the people who made this stick. And there were winners and losers.”

In his discussion, Roman emphasized that automation is where 

“Every CFO in the world is saying ‘I need automation’. Then you got the classic companies flogging it – most of it isn’t good. Become an automation expert,” he encouraged startups, entrepreneurs and channel partners. One of the biggest questions companies are grappling with today is how to find what they need. Whether that’s internal data, lead generations, sales data, there are a lot of organizations trapped in a vicious circle of inefficiency because they simply can’t find stuff.

“Be the automation expert for your organization.”

With the rise of cyberattacks and the public nature of the SolarWinds story, cyber is another area that demands CIOs attention. If that cybersecurity talent doesn’t come from within, it doesn’t matter – turn to outside talent. It just has to be there.

“You got to have the right attitude,” he said.

Carbon neutral – but how do we get there?

Data centres are a massive energy sucker. Data Center Valley in Ashburn, Virgina, for example, has 70 per cent of the world’s internet traffic passes through the region’s fibre. At full build-out, the 42-acre Northern Virginia has 146MW of capacity. Canada’s data centre market isn’t that hot, but cities like Montreal and Toronto are experiencing attractive markets for data centre expansion.

The sustainability track at GCDCS started with a session entitled Aligning data centre and sustainability imperatives. Moderated by Mary Allen, the panel featured Susanna Kass, data centre advisor to UN Sustainable Development and lecturer at Stanford and member of the Climate 50, Microsoft’s Mark Monroe, principle engineer in the datacenter advanced development group and former executive director of the Green Grid, experts shared their perspective on where we are today when it comes to a sustainable IT world. The discussion also featured France-based OVHcloud chief industrialization officer François Sterin, Ireland-based Simon McCormick (CTO, Echelon Data Centers) and Toronto-based Sun Life AVP, Data centre operations and governance Rocco Alonzi. Joseph Reele, VP, solution, architects for Schneider Electric, squeezed in his own presentation as well for the sustainability track.

Monroe says we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to balancing data centre and sustainability imperatives, but green data centres are no longer an anomaly and rather the norm nowadays.

“What we’re seeing there’s an aggregation inside the industry where IT load, in general, is being consolidated into hyperscale data centres which are vastly more efficient and have better cost models. They’re also better able to serve the digital transformation needs on a day-to-day basis compared to a corporate or colocation data centre,” he explained. “Part of the reason for that is the hyperscale companies are focused on making their factories more efficient because then they can be more profitable.”

Customers and the competition is also driving this kind of innovation, he added. Special attention should also be paid to the communities in close proximity to these data centres that rely on the same power grid. Microsoft says it will be carbon negative by 2030 and remove from the environment more carbon than it has emitted since being founded by 2050.

Kass agreed, and encouraged people to think about where the computing power is coming from when you’re working from home.

“When you’re using so much computing during work from home, some data centre is working really hard for you,” she said.

If you’re interested in tuning into any of these sessions on-demand or exploring some of the event’s other sessions, click here.

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Alex Coop
Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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