With over 30 years’ experience in the UPS industry, David Bond, chairman at Centiel Ltd discusses just how far technology has come, what makes a successful data centre and shares with us some of his biggest bugbears.
What were you doing before you joined Centiel and how did you first get involved in the industry?
My background and education is electronic and communications engineering before moving into sales, selling military and paramilitary radios into regions of the world that may not be so attractive to visit these days.
However, with a wife and three children, being away from home for typically six months each year was tough so, armed with my newly acquired management school qualifications, I applied for a technical services manager role in a UPS start-up in the UK.
I had never heard of a UPS but managed to bluff my way into the role. I used to have to take the technical manuals home and read them in bed to help me pretend to know what I was talking about. That was 1988 and I have now worked in the UPS industry for more than 30 years.
What are the biggest changes you have seen within in the data centre industry over the last few years?
In the 1980s, UPS were large, noisy, inefficient machines. A 75kVA (60kW) UPS in 1988 weighed 700kg and was the size of a triple wardrobe. They were beautifully engineered back then but were only 85% efficient and, unlike today, nobody ever considered environmental impact, energy efficiency or PUI. Nowadays a 60kW UPS is smaller than a suitcase and weighs less than 60kg.
We have moved from mainframe to file server to the cloud and now to edge computing. The rapid accumulation of data is driving change exponentially with all data now being processed and stored regardless of how useful it is.
This ever-growing tsunami of data will result in the continued growth of the data centre industry and the increasingly important edge data centres needed to locally process critical information before it is sent to the cloud and the mega data centres.
Are there any emerging or existing technologies that are perhaps gaining more traction than they once were, or any industry trends you’ve noticed?
The introduction of modular UPS revolutionised the availability and flexibility of UPS systems, but energy storage technology has not changed much at all in decades. The industry uses the same batteries today as it did 30 years ago. This is set to change with the introduction of Li-ion battery technology.
CENTIEL’s Li-ion solution is already being installed by its most forward-thinking clients, who are looking to capitalise on the advantages that Li-ion has over lead-acid batteries, namely: they are smaller, lighter, have a high power density, a longer useful working life and can safely operate at higher ambient temperatures, thereby significantly reducing the need for air conditioning.
How would you encourage a school leaver to get involved in your industry? Do you feel there is a current skills gap?
The UPS industry is brilliant! It is hugely varied and incorporates electrical and electronic engineering, power engineering and AC and DC applications. Also, because UPS are now intelligent devices in a network, we are also in the data communications industry and we work in interesting environments such as data centres. With the growth of data, it is also an expanding sector.
In truth, most people stumble upon the UPS industry as I did. However, there are some UPS specific apprenticeships and training schemes available nowadays and the industry is always looking for good people. We have recently taken on a qualified electrician as a trainee UPS engineer and are teaching him about critical power protection.
What, in your opinion, is the most important aspect of a successful data centre?
Availability! Our always on, always connected environment means we cannot function if our mobile phone or Facebook etc. go down. Just imagine the impact of a security breach at one of Facebook’s data centres which took the application offline for a few hours. In today’s world we need to be “connected” all the time and as a result, data centres need to be 100% available 100% of the time.
It is for this reason that Centiel developed its three-phase modular solution CumulusPower. Unlike traditional multi-module systems, CumulusPower technology combines a unique Intelligent Module Technology (IMT), with a fault-tolerant parallel Distributed Active Redundant Architecture (DARA), and ultra-rapid repairs to provide industry leading availability of 99.9999999% (nine Nines).
With regards to sustainability, with data centres using so much power, how important do you think it is for the industry to do its bit to help the impact of climate change?
It’s essential – however, the main purchasing driver is still financial. The increase in UPS efficiency from 85% in the 1980s to 97% today is a 12% improvement that reduces the UPS’ carbon footprint, but purchase decision makers are still focused only on the bottom line, missing the bigger picture.
Of course, increased efficiency and lower TCO are closely linked and the most environmentally friendly systems enjoy ongoing operating cost savings. However, given a choice, decision makers still purchase the lowest cost system thinking they are “saving money” for their company despite the company’s environmental and sustainability policies. Whilst this behaviour is understandable, it is “old school” and needs to change.
Centiel considers everything to reduce environmental impact by improving efficiency. Even tiny details like the length and routing of cables and experimenting with different combinations of components to maximise the system’s operating efficiency are painstakingly undertaken. Yes, such attention to detail adds to the cost of the product’s development, but Centiel thinks it’s worth it.
Just for fun
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
I’m 57 years old so I could write a book about peeves. However, the thing that really irritates me currently is roadside litter. It is not OK to throw food wrappers out of a car window to keep your car tidy. CENTIEL’s Asia Pacific subsidiary is based in Singapore and in Singapore there is no litter. Their zero-tolerance policy works and it’s a really clean and tidy place.
What are your hobbies/interests outside work?
I’m a fanatical Chelsea fan and a keen golfer. I combine the two by using Chelsea ball markers and my golf clubs have Chelsea head covers.
I enjoy the length of time a game of golf takes. It’s all-absorbing and mentally challenging. One of my ex-chairmen once said, “if you play golf with someone you learn all you need to know about them.” Golf’s like life in miniature – it exposes how you cope with good and bad luck, injustices and disappointment. It’s also good fun!
Can you remember what job you wanted when you were a child?
Initially I wanted to be a pilot, but when I realised how difficult it was to qualify, I wanted to be a carpenter. In my role, you often can’t see what you’ve achieved today as the outcome of a decision may not become apparent for several years. A chippy, however, will arrive, hang a few doors and go home having seen the fruits of their labour. Also, the smell of cut wood is better than the smell of a board room.