Schneider Electric: Efficient data centre physical infrastructure management – Paul-François Cattier

As a core area of competitiveness, data centre optimisation remains imperative for financial institutions around the world. FutureBanking caught up with Paul-François Cattier, Schneider Electric's global vice-president, data centre solutions, to learn more abouthow the organisation's fully integrated green power solutions can help companies to advance efficiency and cut costs.

Future Banking: How would you describe Schneider Electric's core business activities?

Paul-François Cattier: As a global specialist in energy management with operations in over 100 countries, Schneider Electric offers integrated solutions across multiple market segments, including leadership positions in energy and infrastructure, industrial processes, building automation, and data centres and networks, as well as a broad presence in residential applications.

Our focus is to make energy safe, reliable, productive, green and efficient. In 2010, our 110,000 employees achieved sales of €19.6 billion through an active commitment to helping individuals and organisations
make the most of their energy. For our customers, this means improving the bottom line while consuming less energy and protecting against power outages.

We know that energy demands and costs will soon skyrocket, and that we will have to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions. Schneider Electric provides energy-efficient solutions that can achieve savings of up to 30%.

What do you see as the key challenges facing financial institutions and other large corporations in the area of data centre optimisation?

In order to maximise return on investment, data centres need to be built for a lengthy lifecycle of operations. In addition to cost, these data centres take a long time to plan and construct. But one of the lessons of the last ten years has been that technology advances too quickly for physical infrastructure to maintain pace - in fact, the availability of power and cooling capacity can be a help or a hindrance to a business's ability to meet the requirements of ever larger server loads and data volumes.

Furthermore, in today's economic climate, as banks strive to meet the regulatory demand to build sufficient cash reserves to secure their operations, there is internal competition for capital. According to McKinsey, a typical data centre build that cost $150 million to construct five years ago can cost five times that amount today.

The cost of data centre inefficiency is a real threat to the profitability of investment banks, as the capital required for infrastructure and facilities is diverted from new product development, rendering some products or segments uneconomical and materially affecting margins.

Why are your clients choosing to do business with Schneider Electric instead of your competitors in the market?

As a global business with substantial resources and access to capital, we believe that Schneider Electric is better able to meet the 21st-century needs of our customers, not just because of our products and solutions or market expertise, but because of the way we do business.

We aim to help people make the most of their energy - once it has been generated, Schneider Electric provides technology and integrated solutions to optimise its usage in markets such as energy and infrastructure, industry, data centres, residential and construction.

We have a unique portfolio in electrical distribution, industrial automation, security, critical power and cooling, and building management, making us true global specialists in energy management and efficiency.

In 2010, 37% of Schneider Electric's sales were in new economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.

This is all underpinned by our innovation and research and development: Schneider Electric devotes up to 5% of its sales every year to R&D, with over 7,500 R&D engineers in centres worldwide.

The company sees innovation as a way to make its solutions greener, simpler and easier to integrate into its customers' daily environment, relying on strong investment and many partnerships.

Finally, no other company is as firmly committed to the data centre market as we are. We have made it a high priority because our customers have identified the data centre as a key area in which they need help and improvement.

What are the leading causes of downtime, data loss and hardware damage, and how can financial institutions guard against them?

From a physical infrastructure point of view, the leading cause of downtime is human error. Ironically, many failures occur during or just after routine maintenance has been carried out, often because healthy parts have been removed in order to inspect other parts. Tiredness and unfamiliarity with system components are other factors - legacy data centres have traditionally used a lot of single-use, custom-engineered parts.

An obvious way to guard against downtime is to use standardised physical infrastructure equipment with intelligent self-diagnostic capabilities. In addition to this, regular monitoring and measurement can help indicate where fault conditions are emerging based upon performance data. Systems can then be programmed to alert facilities personnel when predetermined thresholds are exceeded or other conditions identified, so that precautionary measures can be taken.

As you'd expect from a leading supplier, Schneider Electric's solutions are designed using modular, pre-engineered principles to help reduce incidences of human error. If a fault condition is emerging, hot swappable modules can mitigate the effect or, in a worst-case scenario, minimise the time taken to repair and restore the system to full operating capacity.

As a regulated industry, banking and finance must install safeguards to ensure that data is kept secure and backed-up effectively. Schneider Electric helps facilitate this by offering power and cooling solutions to ensure system health, environmental and equipment monitoring solutions, and physical security to protect mission-critical facilities and data centres against threats.

What are the largest avoidable costs associated with data centre infrastructure?What architectures / methods can be used to avoid these charges?

System inefficiency caused by oversizing data centre infrastructure is probably the greatest cause of wasted energy and additional costs. The solution is to right-size the physical infrastructure so that the provision of power and cooling capacity closely matches the requirement of the IT equipment housed in the data centre.

The most efficient physical infrastructure is that which is able to supply the required amount of power and cooling capacity to meet current IT demand in a timely fashion.Since the advent of the dotcom economy, when the market for data centres started to grow aggressively, Schneider Electric has advocated the use of data centre physical infrastructure that is modular and scalable. We are the pioneers of on-demand data centre architecture that affords our customers a competitive advantage by enabling their IT services to adapt to different requirements.

What, in your opinion, are the four most important strategies for reducing overall energy consumption?

Firstly, measure your energy. By measuring energy usage, problem areas can be identified and actions can be put in place to reduce consumption and, as a result, fuel bills and carbon emissions.

Secondly, fix the basics; small steps can make a big difference. By investing in energy-efficient devices, substantial savings can be achieved. Power factor correction, for example, can increase the efficiency of
the power supply and create greater supply capacity. Encouraging a change of culture can also pay dividends as staff switch off devices, lights and heating when not in use.

Thirdly, automate the savings. Automation systems offer seamless connectivity, enabling you to control your building, data centre and process plant's energy using an office PC or human machine interfaces located across the corporate domain.

Fourthly, monitor and improve. Once we're all working hard to reduce energy costs and increase productivity, the right tools and technology are needed to make effective and sustainable decisions to reduce utility costs and improve the efficiency of facilities.

Schneider Electric’s intelligent, standardised physical infrastructure keeps data protected.
Paul-François Cattier is Schneider Electric's global vice-president, data centre solutions.