The best talent to protect valuable company data
How did you come to set up Datacenter People?
Peter Hannaford: I've been involved in data centres - or computer rooms, as we used to call them - for more than 40 years. It was only in the mid-90s that the term 'data centre' became commonly used.
I worked for a major French bank in the city when it acquired its first mainframe in 1970. Like most other financial institutions, there was no pool of available experienced talent in those days, so computer staff that passed the in-house aptitude tests were selected and sent for training - usually provided by the manufacturers.
So, I became a computer programmer - a rock star in those days - writing programs for a market-maker in French francs on an 8-bit 32k computer. As Gordon Moore [co-founder and chairman emeritus of Intel Corporation] predicted in 1965, things moved on pretty quickly. I ended up as the UK IT manager for the bank before being headhunted to an international investment bank in Paris in 1986.
That bank was acquired and I decided to go it alone, setting up my first company, which offered commercial design and build services to large companies, often including dealing rooms and computer rooms. When the dot-com bubble emerged in 1995, we branched out into designing and building the new data centres - one of the first in Europe do so.
By 2000, we had 150 employees, and our turnover reached $200 million before the bubble burst in 2001 and everything came to a grinding halt. I sold the contracting business and continued on a much reduced scale, offering design and management services. During this time, we developed the first water-cooled server rack with a vertically mounted cooling coil for high-density server deployment.
In 2003, I sold the company to American Power Conversion (APC) - a major manufacturer of power and cooling solutions for the data-centre industry. I joined APC but, in 2007, it was acquired by Schneider-Electric and I moved across. However, in 2010, the entrepreneurial urge resurfaced and I left to form Datacenter People.
What is your core value proposition?
We are the first - and, still, only - recruitment firm solely focused on the data-centre industry worldwide.
With our HQ and research team based in London, and with offices in Miami, Singapore and, more recently, Dublin, we cover all quarters of the planet. Datacenter People is not a traditional recruitment agency; more of a data-centre company dealing with talent. Most of our clients are major global names that retain us to find individuals or whole teams from the West Coast of the US to Australia.
The data centre is our area of expertise; whether the requirement is for design, planning, construction, operational talent or selling products and solutions to the data-centre industry, or co-location (colo) and managed services from the data centre.
And our global delivery model - whereby the same research team works with the same client irrespective of where the delivery takes place - means we understand the role and candidate profile, and, more importantly, the culture and DNA required for the best corporate fit. The result means that we are able to deliver better candidates faster, especially on the second and subsequent searches.
You mention opening a new office in Dublin - when did that happen? What was the rationale behind the decision to expand into Ireland?
Ireland is sinking under the weight of data centres right now. It's become a major global hub, and most of the world's leading cloud and colo firms have a large presence there - some with multiple facilities. We've made quite a few placements there to date, and, with demand outstripping the supply of excellent talent right now, competition is tough and salaries are increasing daily.
Furthermore, with the move to cloud, we are seeing the requirement for a data-centre technician with a mix of IT, power and cooling experience emerge. Some companies are predicting a shortage of several thousand in qualified talent over the next few years. In any case, with Brexit just around the corner, it's logical that we retain a presence in the EU.
How might Brexit affect the UK's data-centre sector?
Who knows? And that's the first issue. Uncertainty means that important decisions are being deferred. The UK's relationship with the rest of the EU is set to change. The UK is currently an important global data and talent hub, and needs to ensure that data and innovation can continue to flow between it and the rest of the world, while strengthening internationally recognised cybersecurity and privacy laws.
UK operators need to be able to continue to export and import digital services without trade barriers. Currently, we enjoy the freedom to fish for talent anywhere in the EU. Any imposition on the free movement of people will undoubtedly make our life more difficult. And then there's the impact on costs. Tariffs imposed on manufactured goods - such as generators and UPSs - exported or imported, will result in increased costs; the same applies to utilities - electricity, water, gas. All of which will drive decisions on where to host data.
Can we talk about your track record providing solutions for the financial services industry specifically?
We do very little work directly for the financial service industry as a lot of their data-centre work, such as construction, services and facilities management, is outsourced. However, data-centre managers, engineers and technicians form a substantial part of our portfolio, and service companies are among our largest clients. We also work for eight out of the top ten largest cloud-campus operators on the planet; I'm pretty sure you'd find some pretty large banks listed among their clients.
What do you see as the key challenges facing financial institutions in the area of data-centre optimisation?
Wherever we look to make improvements, the key is people, as you'd expect. Whether it's maximising the use of available resources, reducing costs, improving efficiency, reducing downtime or all of the above, you need smart people who are prepared to make decisions. Power-usage effectiveness and server consolidation have been on the agenda for some time, but there's an abundance of power and cooling plant lying around that rarely gets used.
How does Datacenter People ensure that the right professionals with the right attitudes are matched with your clients?
Everyone should be looking for candidates with a mix of intellect, values, motivations, behaviours and experience. Too many firms look solely at the CV, from which only experience can be gleaned; out of all of the attributes required, that is the easiest one to change, as experience is always developing, whereas intellect is more or less set from an early age.
What is your response if institutions ask you for additional guarantees should your servicelevel agreement by itself not suffice?
That's a difficult one. We can only use our best efforts to determine whether or not a candidate will deliver what's expected. The data-centre world is a relatively small 'global village' and most candidates, especially for senior roles, are probably known to at least someone in our network. If they don't work out, or they resign soon after their appointment, we will find replacement candidates at no additional cost to the client.
What are the human-capital implications and challenges for banks as they move from a largely in-house to a hybrid computing environment?
This is massive and requires a sea change in outlook and behaviour. Banks have always wanted to keep their hands on the money, but it's no longer pound notes locked up in the vault. It's just data, which needs to be kept safe and always available. So it needs to be managed by people who understand this, and kept in safe centres of secure but accessible data.