Ensuring a resilient, secure and sustainable hybrid IT environment

The hybrid IT environment is a heavily talked about subject as businesses adapt to this modern way of working. Kevin Brown, SVP, EcoStruxure Solutions, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric, discusses how it helps its customers to successfully build a scalable resiliency strategy and get ahead of potential sustainability challenges.

What are some of the challenges enterprises face when it comes to increasing resiliency?

It is clear that many applications are moving (or have moved) to the cloud. At the same time, the contactless, automated world we’re living in is driving the deployment of Edge data centres. IDC has put numbers around it – 39,000 core data centres globally and it could be 7-million-plus Edge locations, probably not counting all the little wiring closets and server rooms. In our view, these wiring closets and server rooms must now be thought of as mission critical. 

This trend towards resiliency at the Edge creates a new level of complexity and managing it all is a challenge for CIOs. CIOs now need to deal with what’s left of their data centres, the equipment they have deployed in colocation facilities, and all the Edge sites – the so-called ‘hybrid IT environment’.

Furthermore, it’s not only about resiliency. All these sites present cybersecurity risks as well as sustainability challenges. We are committed to helping the industry get ahead of these challenges, and management tools are a key part of that strategy.

How does remote monitoring strengthen uptime and minimise risk?

I believe visibility is the first step in managing your data centre, and many operators have limited-to-no visibility. They have uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) with old batteries and out-of-date firmware. At Schneider Electric, we estimate that 62% of customers are running outdated device firmware, which creates the kind of cybersecurity risks that have been dominating headlines.

We’ve used insight from our data lake and created device scorecards to prioritise what needs immediate attention. We’ve invested in features such as mass-applied device setting changes and automated firmware updates. This makes the job of ensuring the devices are complying with security policies much simpler. Additionally, the ability to connect to our data lake where we are using AI and analytics to provide insights and predictions on failures helps ensure downtime is avoided. 

We believe that by leveraging technology, it’s possible to make the hybrid IT environment more secure, more resilient and more sustainable, even with limited staff support.

What kinds of services and support are customers looking for to improve business resiliency and efficiencies?

Clearly, we believe that technology and software tools play a key role, but services is just as important. It does no good to predict a device failure if no one can go and resolve that issue and perform service.

We believe CIOs will need to think of the ecosystem of partners they have and how can they utilise them more effectively. To enable this ecosystem, we’ve been investing in making the information in our tools more broadly available and easier to integrate via APIs. We’ve seen companies that are managing the complexity themselves, leveraging managed service providers, leveraging other vendors, and/or leveraging Schneider Electric as well. Sometimes they have a mix of these strategies.

By opening up access to the data and intelligence in our tools, we are trying to empower the CIO to use the right partner for the right job at the right time. Our view is that this approach is the only way to solve the challenges of a resilient, secure and sustainable hybrid IT environment.

How do you enable organisations – and people – to stay connected through your remote monitoring solutions?

We’ve made a significant commitment to cloud enabling our tools set. We see many benefits to this approach, which includes easier remote access (no VPN required) as well as mobile access. Some of our customers have told us that in many respects, this has been a ‘life changer’ – the ability to remotely, from anywhere, stay connected and be able to resolve infrastructure issues. We have an example where our customer told us we saved their holiday because they were able to use our tools remotely, avoiding what would have traditionally required a trip to the office.

Can you highlight any recent customer use cases?

We have a number of customers who are leveraging our software and working directly alongside expert organisations within our partner ecosystem to maximise uptime, resilience and efficiency. These partners offer a breadth of engineering and service expertise within traditional data centre and Edge environments, supporting customers to manage and maintain distributed sites and reduce risk of downtime.

One example is our Elite Partner Advanced Power Technology (APT) working with the Birmingham Women and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust to ensure uptime for its critical IT and backup power systems. The Trust is leveraging our EcoStruxure IT Expert software to manage two core, on-premise data centres, a number of network closets and more than 100 UPSs across its campus.

Uninterruptible power is a key priority and the volume of IT is growing, so it’s a challenging job for a small IT department. Here, our EcoStruxure software offers the Trust real-time visibility across its entire IT infrastructure with data-driven analytics, which provide an accurate assessment of the health and status of its critical systems. Proactive alerts also help the IT department to prioritise maintenance on any equipment that may not be performing optimally while enabling it to monitor environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, to mitigate failures or outages.

Another example is our Elite Partner EfficiencyIT working with The Wellcome Sanger Institute, one of the world’s leading research facilities focused on genomic discovery. Here, the data centre manager is using EcoStruxure IT Expert software to gain instant visibility of its 4MW on-premise data centre, and manage the UPSs distributed across its research lab, which protect vital genomic sequencing equipment.

The software enables the Institute to gain greater insights into the operation of all key infrastructure assets in the data centre, including racks, power distribution units (PDUs), UPS and cooling equipment. It can manage all of the key equipment from a centralised platform to improve operational efficiency and do it remotely, which was crucial during the lockdown.

In both cases, the software is an enabler. It allows the customers to not only to manage all of their data centre, Edge and distributed IT equipment more effectively, it means they can rely on partners for any mission-critical servicing to increase the levels of resilience or reliability. 

How is Schneider Electric delivering on its commitments to help customers achieve sustainability and resilience?

At Schneider Electric, we are working exceptionally hard to achieve our own sustainability goals. Our CEO has prioritised sustainability and we have made public commitments. In fact, we were named the number one most sustainable company in the world by Corporate Knights.

We are taking what we have learned over the last 15 years and developing services to help our customers develop their own programmes.

It is a multi-faceted approach. Simply put, it includes an overall strategy that is actionable and measurable, enhanced Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools for more efficient operation of hybrid environments including proper management of Edge sites and a focus on managing their carbon footprint.

What advice would you offer businesses on building a scalable resiliency strategy?

First, they need to assess and understand where they are today. Then they can start to figure out the capabilities they need, consider the ecosystem of partners and vendors that will be essential, and ultimately determine where they want to go.

We can help get them there with our expertise and innovation. With the power of the cloud, a data lake, analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), our DCIM tools do much more now than they did even just a few years ago. So, we think we are in a good position to help our customers in many ways.

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