Brad Wilson has been with Geist Global for more than 16 years and currently has strategic oversight for its data center operations. David Russell came to parent company PCE in mid-2014. Both are seeing significant growth for the company, which has resulted in the development of a brand new 14 million-dollar global headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska. Scheduled for completion in early 2016, the new facility will include 34,000 sq. ft. of office and lab space, 31,500 sq. ft. of production space, and 21,500 sq. ft. for shipping and receiving. To find out more, Cloud Computing spoke these two key executives who are helping bring both entities through this exciting growth period.
What is your role at Geist and how has it evolved since you joined the business?
As Executive Vice President of Geist Global, which includes Geist America, Geist Europe, and Geist Shenzhen I oversee all data center related operations owned by our parent company, PCE. The data center group includes manufacturing in Lincoln, NE and Taunton, UK; software development in Austin, TX and Fort Collins, CO; as well as additional sales offices in London, UK and Shenzhen, China.
When I started, I was most heavily involved in Operations Management, where I helped transform our manufacturing process with a lean manufacturing methodology that allows us respond rapidly to customer demand without relying on expensive inventory on our shelves or those of our distributors. In time, I moved more into the engineering side. As we honed the operational side, the market began to move into higher power densities and towards smart power and, as Engineering Manager, I managed the design and development of one of the broadest offerings in the industry.
When I became Chief Technical Director, Geist’s power distribution offering continued to mature and it became clear the company would need more technology to meet customer demands. In 2005, we began an acquisition phase that helped form today’s Geist. We invested in IT Watchdogs, an environmental monitoring company in Austin, TX, one that we have subsequently purchased. That gave us the ‘in’ to the web-enabled device, and we expanded the environmental monitoring line while also using the engineering team to develop technologies for monitoring and controlling power distribution units via web interface. In 2008, we began investing in and designing products for Opengate Data Systems, an airflow management company developing leading edge heat containment systems for the data center. We completed acquisition of Opengate in 2012. In 2009, we bought the Environet product line from a company in Fort Collins, CO, and subsequently began our DCIM division to provide holistic software monitoring across all of our product lines as well as provide a vendor agnostic way to monitor all data center operations through a single pane of glass. In 2010, we bought Data and Power Solutions, a power distribution unit manufacturer in Taunton, UK, and transformed that into Geist Europe so that we could have local manufacturing in both the US and the EU. The final steps of this journey have been to open sales offices in London, UK and Shenzhen, China to service those regions of the world.
As Director of IT for PCE, I oversee all technology needs and operations for the business and plan for future growth while constantly adjusting to ever-shifting technology developments and needs. Since joining PCE, I have been able to work with all divisions, spearheading the direction and implementation of IT throughout the organization and bringing various business units closer together. Our job in IT is enablement and, by working with our staff, we figure out the best ways to take advantage of existing technology solutions, or find new ones, that solve problems. As a result, company directors now view IT as a strategic partner and that is a welcoming development.
Discuss Geist's growth and how you have influenced the company's successes
Geist’s growth has always hinged on listening to what the customer wants and responding to that need. I think my influence has been to help make that those wishes turn into products that provides Geist with the revenue required to continue to grow aggressively.
I am very fortunate to work with various business units and help influence their growth. The companies in the group are in manufacturing and software engineering, therefore, efficiency is vital to gaining competitive edge and being successful. Through effective implementation of technology we have been able to help increase efficiency. Over the past six to seven months, we have identified less critical systems that are suitable for public cloud, as well as creating a more stable and robust private cloud that holds our sensitive business information.
What are your biggest challenges in your role and how are you addressing them?
The biggest challenge of growing a small, privately held company is effectively managing the growth. As we grow, communication issues and bureaucracy present challenges. We are in a constant state of change. When we see pressures grow in one part of the business, we work to align people and expectations to relieve that pressure and advance the company. The biggest ongoing challenges involves aligning people with expectations, which, for me, means listening and keeping an open mind, helping to help make things better.
I believe there are three main challenges that we face.
- Aging Infrastructure – Soon after my appointment, the IT team came together to find various systems that could easily be moved to the cloud; started to ensure standardization of hardware and replaced older SANs and servers, which not only reduced latency and improved efficiencies for our employees, but also created redundancy and improved performance within our private cloud.
- New Technologies –Our challenge is to continuously understand new technologies and know which of these technologies should be leveraged to help the company grow and which should be avoided in the short term.
- Shadow IT – When users are dissatisfied with their IT departments, they start looking to other options for service or support. With alternative resources easily available via the cloud and with all users having access to the Internet, there emerged a trend towards bypassing the IT department altogether. I discovered a lack of IT communication. To help remedy that we implemented a cloud-based ticketing system with a user portal, making a much more conscious effort to communicate with users, letting them know we are ready to help them. That has significantly reduced the number of shadow IT applications in the organization and also improved the reputation of IT as a service department
What issues or challenges are your customer most concerned with today and how are you helping them overcome them?
Geist’s biggest asset to our customers is our ability to customize a solution to fit their needs. Every data center is different, every approach is different, and you won’t make everyone happy with a small, inflexible product offering. Because of the flexibility we’ve built into our design, manufacturing, conformance, and operations, we can build products that fit customers’ needs within days when our competitors often take months. We can tailor power, airflow, monitoring, and DCIM software to meet the needs of the customer and meet their demands better than others in our industry.
What impact has the growth of cloud computing had on Geist’s business?
It has helped spur our incredible growth. As cloud computing gains more traction, Geist has been able to capitalize on our strengths, and listen to what the cloud players are looking for in this new paradigm. We have customized hundreds of designs specifically for high-density power distribution schemes, and worked with the largest cloud players in the world. Additionally, the growth of private cloud/enterprise cloud has also given us ample opportunity within the enterprise data center and in colocation data centers.
The cloud has certainly had a positive influence within our business. We have been able to reduce our footprint as well as improve uptime and reliability of valorous systems by moving them to the cloud or moving to a SaaS (News - Alert) model.
What other trends do you expect will positively impact Geist's growth going foward?
Aside from the steady increase in power density within the data center, which positively impacts our power distribution business, the need for managing that density growth will also positively impact Geist’s airflow solutions business. As power densities grow, so do heat densities. So, Geist’s airflow management solutions will play a key role in heat management. Our EC systems are already helping manage airflow on some of the world’s largest super-computers. Likewise, the increase in density will require more robust monitoring and management solutions. Geist’s DCIM offerings will allow data center managers to manage and predict the physical state of the data center throughout the growth of high density computing.
Cloud Computing – The accessibility and freedom that cloud offers mobile users is extremely attractive. The cloud allows people to be continually connected to resources from multiple devices. We will continue to build a hybrid cloud to allow us to continue to be agile, reduce costs and improve efficiency.
Also security and privacy – With devices in the world increasingly connected, security and privacy is at the forefront of our mind. We have a huge responsibility to ensure that all of our systems and hardware are secure, while allowing users to have a great experience and to not become frustrated.
With demands for data center efficiency continuing to increase, what are your goals or expectations for Geist?
Coming from an operational background, I understand efficiency gains. All gains come from a baseline of knowledge and, therefore, a baseline measurement. That which gets measured, gets improved. Geist has an array of products that not only help measure efficiency metrics, but we also have tools to aggregate, trend, and improve efficiencies. Our devices and software can help establish the baseline and help identify the areas where efficiency improvement can be made.
We will seek to continue to improve our business agility by enhancing operational efficiencies, improving security and availability, increasing our use of virtualization technologies, and consolidating, where possible to reduce costs and improve infrastructure utilization.
Edited by Maurice Nagle