Every day is a school day!
As an ex-apprentice and now considered to be a bit of an expert of data centre energy efficiency and sustainability, I’ve always valued training, and to be honest you cannot reach the levels I have in the industry without education, so for me this has been a constant in my life.
When I started Carbon3IT back in 2009, the first thing I did was to take a course on Green IT, this was the BCS Green IT Foundation certificate and was delivered by QA Training, the second thing was the BCS Intermediate certification in the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres (Energy Efficiency), since then I’ve taken PRINCE 2, ITIL foundation, the Certified Data Centre Audit and Sustainability Professional qualifications as well as a short course in Hydrogen. I’ve delivered courses in Mauritius, to a mixture of Government and Parastatal bodies and delivered EUCOC training to BRE, Lloyds Banking Group and recently to Arup and one of their clients. I’ve also presented to the delegates on both the EU Funded EURECA and CATALYST projects. And for the past 3 years I’ve been delivering a data centre systems management course to the Birmingham City University students on the Computing and Computing and Networking degree courses.
The one thing that frustrates me enormously is the fact that most data centre training is delivered in hotel rooms, basic classrooms or lecture halls and in some cases has been described to me as “death by power point” and during the pandemic as “death by power point over zoom”.
How can you demonstrate the concepts of energy efficiency and for that matter sustainability, when a lot of the material is focused on practical stuff, the stuff we do with our hands and can make such a huge difference in energy consumption and thus energy cost, especially in these energy efficiency and sustainability focused times without a practical environment?
In my view and judging from recent conversations at various events that I’ve attended recently is that it’s all very well telling people what to do, but it’s a very different matter for them to actually go and do it in their environments, after all a data centre is a mission critical environment and usually governed by customer SLA/OLAs that are caught in the 20th century and it simply isn’t possible to implement even the most basic of energy efficiency best practices. Add to that, the fact, that most people work on one site and rarely move, and it’s clear to me that they can’t see the wood of the trees, and suffer from FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt, even when they’ve had the desk-based training
A practical Data Centre training environment
What we need is a data centre training academy where students can have the full experience of working in a data centre, from cabling to NOC operations, from implementing energy efficiency best practices to experiencing a real time outage and the recovery from it.
In terms of implementing the energy efficiency best practices, imagine a room that hasn’t had anything done to it at all, and then over a period of a week, the students actually implement the best practices without fear of breaching SLA/OLAs and where they can actually see the improvements on PUE and energy consumption in real time (on real equipment that is just like they have back at base).
Imagine being in a data centre switch room where you can turn off the mains power, just to see if your UPS and Generators are working?
Imagine being able to raise your inlet temperatures without fear of irate calls from customers moaning about temperatures going out of agreed ranges.
Imagine working in a virtual NOC where you’ll experience a real outage and go through the practical steps required to recover from potential disaster without the stress of experiencing the real thing, so that when it does happen on your site you know what to do. Research indicates that DC personnel who have gone through this type of training will make the right decisions 99.6% of the time, whereas those that don’t will make the right decision 50% of the time. In terms of confidence, I know who I would prefer.
Imagine being able to get a new recruit verified by an independent organisation? The person arrives and is given tasks to do in a real data centre environment, is he/she able to install a server correctly? Do they update the documentation, do they use the correct network ports and power sockets? With our services you can check them out before making them that offer.
We really need this type of facility, especially given the growth rates of this sector.
There is currently an BEIS IEEA funding call that specifically mentions data centres, and we've been advised that the NDCA would be considered a suitable site for research under this call, but any type of research relating to Data Centres could be carried out at the NDCA.
Why haven’t we got something like this?
Well, that’s easy, the cost of building a facility is enormous, and definitely out of reach of most of the training companies that specialise in data centre training courses, that’s why we have the “death by power point” training courses.
I’ve even spoken to DC operators and said, “look, you have x data centres scattered all around the globe, why haven’t you built a small training centre within those facilities to train your own guys?”, and the answer is nearly always, “John, its sellable space, we’d rather sell that space than create a training facility which would be a cost centre for us, in terms of staff, space and we’d have to make it autonomous so it didn’t impact our own operations” and that is a very fair point.
So, my view on this is that we, as an industry, need to take a leaf out of other sectors playbooks when it comes to training, after all, you wouldn’t let a mechanic who have NEVER touched a car do the service on your car would you? And mechanics usually do a mixture of on the job, and perhaps one day a week at a local vocational college or perhaps a block release, it really doesn’t matter the breakdown, the thing is that they combine practical and theoretical technical education, we don’t!
I live in the West Midlands, and they have a High-Speed Rail College, this college is for all the companies that provide High Speed Rail in the UK, and many different companies send their apprentices and adult staff to this college to learn about rail operations, signalling, loco maintenance etc.
We need something similar…
The National Data Centre Academy
I’ve been musing on this since 2016 and have over the past 6 years tried to bring my practical training academy vision into reality, we visited 4 or is it 5 sites and at various points got really close to reaching an agreement with the owners, only for them to pull out at the last minute, it has been incredibly frustrating.
So, as part of my work with the Birmingham City University and with their support we have identified a site in Rugby, close to the motorway network (J1, M6) and trains, Rugby is on the West Coast Mainline, and planes, Birmingham and East Midlands Airports with plenty of high-quality hotel accommodation in the area, ranging from private houses to 4-star hotels.
The building itself is a former workplace recovery site and already has a fully functioning data centre (no customers) but will be equipped with a cold aisle, contained cold/hot aisles, a temporary IST environment and a cabling area with a full suite of training rooms including one that will be used as an auditorium for events but also as a semi-permanent exhibition area, allowing the smaller supply chain organisation to have the same visibility as their larger cousins.
We have 3 training suites that can be adapted to provide 5 classrooms, 4 classrooms and 3 classrooms respectively and a number of separate rooms that will be used as utility rooms, a liquid lab and potentially a Cisco lab
We also have the capability to host cutting edge data centre solutions as such virtual reality/augmented reality demonstrations, immersed cooling solutions and the latest DSR battery technology.
For an industry that is risk adverse, set in its ways, hampered by out of touch SLAs, under pressure to reduce carbon footprints, energy use and resource utilisation, This really is a game changer for the (what should be a trail blazing Digital Infrastructure) industry…
Come and Join us
Please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to arrange a visit and a discussion on how we can help you with training our future technicians for the 21st Century or research/ exhibition needs.