Bruno Berti, VP of Product Management, joined a panel at the DatacenterDynamics event, Datacenter-as-a-Service, to discuss how the pandemic impacted customer requirements for data center space, how providers worked with customers preparing for unpredictable capacity limits due to the pandemic, and what data center services enterprises are looking for to post-pandemic to help them avoid potential disasters and keep their businesses running. Read some of his interview below.
Q: How have customer requirements changed since the pandemic started?
A: First, just from the perspective of us as a company, we had to mobilize really quickly. We tried to get everybody who was not critical to the data center operation out of the data center. We didn't want to have any people in there that, you know, are a risk to the people that were keeping the data centers pristine and working and operational.
From the customer perspective, what we noticed fairly early was, at first there was a bit of a wait and see what was going to happen. But it quickly turned into the demand requirements we saw were just significantly increasing.
So we did a bit of an internal look and we increased the inventory in some of our locations. We accelerated some of our construction projects, and fortunately, because we built in a modular approach, we were able to deploy some modules that we had in inventory a lot sooner to provide some capacity in those markets where we saw the demand really kicking up from our existing customers.
Q: How did you deal with capacity unpredictability?
A: I think that's kind of the biggest challenge that we saw - the change in behavior. And I really love the word unpredictability. Because a lot of our customers and even we didn't really know or understand how much capacity would really be required.
There was a lot of concern that all available inventory, at least from a data center perspective in certain markets were being scooped up by bigger players. Some of the smaller players were scrambling to try and get capacity. And for us, the behavior change that we saw was really our customers were asking for, I think you mentioned ramps, and possibly even some reservation of capacity that they weren't willing to take initially. They wanted to make sure that capacity was reserved for them when they needed it and if they needed it. It's kind of a different buying behavior.
We're used to from a data center provider perspective seeing customers ask for ramps and ask for reserved capacity, but typically we'd see for every, let's say megawatt of capacity customers would contract for they might ask for 10% more in reserve. What we started seeing was almost the opposite behavior where they would buy a certain amount of capacity but almost ask for double or triple that in some sort of reserve or option ability just to be able to deal with the unpredictability of the demand.
Q: Is the level of support from data center providers changing?
A: Most data center providers have always provided a level of remote hand capability to just try and provide a convenience for our customers that weren't necessarily in the data center. Go reboot a server, go check a light, go rerun a cable, just so that they wouldn't have to deploy a resource into the data center if they didn't have them there already. I consider that those items in the past were more of a convenience service or just sort of providing some additional capabilities.
But what we've seen through the pandemic is a couple of things. With the staff of the companies actually being forced to stay home or work from home, you're relying a little bit more on that data center staff that was there so that their staff wouldn't be deployed, and they could protect them from the pandemic.
The other thing that we also started seeing is was even with our data centers, we really wanted to make sure that we protected our critical staff - the security that had to show up to the data center every day, the critical facility operations, people that were managing, maintaining and keeping the equipment running, as well as our IT staff that was doing the remote hands.
We wanted to protect that staff from any outside influences or possible contamination or risk from COVID, so we were actually even recommending that our customers don't show up to the data center and leverage our staff for those types of work. It really increased the amount of remote hands or smart hands that was being provided on behalf of our customers. We saw customer's usage levels significantly increase and even with the RFPs and the proposals for new customers, every single one of them now was asking a lot more about remote hands. It wasn't just a nice to have; it was almost a must have.