Data Center Insights: Ciaran Flanagan, Siemens

July 3, 2024
As Global Head of Datacenter Solutions & Services for Siemens knows that in the digital realm, the majority of a data center's environmental footprint is generated during its ongoing operations, and that's why it's crucial to prioritize decarbonizing energy sources to significantly reduce this impact.

The Data Center Frontier Executive Roundtable features insights from industry executives with lengthy experience in the data center industry. Here’s a look at the insights from Ciaran Flanagan, Global Head of Data Center Solutions, Siemens.

As the Siemens' Global Head of Datacenter Solutions & Services, Ciaran Flanagan is leading the continued development of Siemens Smart Infrastructure as a technology partner to the global data center industry. Prior to joining Siemens, Ciaran has held various senior data center roles at notable multinational corporations.

He has consulted with several Fortune 100 companies in the areas of data center operations, technical architecture, energy efficiency, procurement strategy and financial planning, and was a founding contributor to the EU Data Center Code of Conduct, and a Contributing Member of The Green Grid and the Open Data Center Alliance.

Here's the full text of Ciaran Flanagan's insights from our Executive Roundtable:

Data Center Frontier:  To open the Second Quarter of 2024, Data Center Frontier's Founder and Editor at Large Rich Miller doubled down on a definitive call originally made in his annual industry trends forecast: The age of the gigawatt data center MegaCampus is truly upon us. From your perspective, what are the most pertinent front-of-mind considerations, whether geographic, regulatory or otherwise, for MegaCampus stakeholders including investors, developers, operators, partners, vendors, and customers?  

Ciaran Flanagan, Siemens:  For sure, the emerging gigawatt campus is indeed upon us, and the trend is being confirmed in several global regions as some very ambitious plans come to the market. 

The basic proposition states that scale brings efficiency, and we know we will see that with this kind of facility, but there are some considerations. 

Local support, from government and communities, is critical for a successful project at this scale. The ‘social value’ must be proactively addressed so that some of the practicalities of that scale don’t become roadblocks. 

Beyond that, the scale needs to be considered in terms of how it impacts the local grid, water usage, and even something as specific as how many generators you need to back up that scale of power. 

When a project of this scale is being contemplated, the site selection options are not so plentiful, so engaging the local community is indeed the key.

Data Center Frontier:  In the industry's now ongoing level-up to global net zero and decarbonization goals, what processes should data center developers and operators be prioritizing for a proactive approach to building greener data centers and fostering resilient sustainability practices, especially in the face of the exponential future power demands associated with AI and GPU-based computing?

Ciaran Flanagan, Siemens: Our industry has made many promises about net zero, greener data centers, and climate neutrality. While these are credible and essential ambitions, we need to be transparent on the impact of building new facilities, because there is an impact, albeit short, relative to the lifespan of the facility. 

Although we have the understanding that sustainability is a journey where we should strive, through technology and process, to incrementally improve operations, we should also acknowledge that building and operating data center facilities does have a sustainability impact. 

We should focus less on the claims and really understand the method and the journey. 

In the digital realm, the majority of a data center's environmental footprint is generated during its ongoing operations. It is crucial to prioritize decarbonizing the energy sources to significantly reduce this impact. 

To move forward, we can collaborate with our partners on what I call the 3Ms approach - measure, manage, and mitigate. 

Can you quantify the influence? Can you harness innovative technology to boost efficiency? Can you then actively reduce the carbon inputs? 

I think it’s really fascinating to learn and understand what operators do to incrementally get better every year …every watt matters!

Data Center Frontier:  From your view of the data center industry, what are the top opportunities for any type of modular design innovation within or adjacent to hyperscale or colocation facilities, the better to measure up to escalating compute as well as grid and on-site power requirements for meeting the expected, ongoing rise in demand for ultra-cloud, HPC and AI/ML workloads?  

Ciaran Flanagan, Siemens:  Design innovation is the lifeblood of this industry, from chip to grid, we have seen massive improvements in efficiency. This trend will continue as inefficient workloads retire in favour of more efficient infrastructure. 

In a practical sense, I see the opportunity to work closer with the Utility and Power industry. This industry can better participate in the grid operations for everyone’s benefit…the scale is clear and may open new commercial opportunities too. 

We see modular and prefabricated designs as more than just an opportunity but an obligation. What’s next? Perhaps we need now to look at how we can locate modular AI infrastructure at the Utility.

Data Center Frontier:  What are some data points or anecdotes people persistently seem to get wrong or misbelieve about your area of the data center sector?  

Ciaran Flanagan, Siemens: The biggest misconception I see is the idea that data centers will use all the world’s available power. 

And for sure, data centers use a lot of power. But the other side of the story is poorly understood. 

First, the data center industry is the beating heart of economic growth, making society more efficient and solving complex problems we couldn’t address in the past. 

The second part of the puzzle relates to climate change – this industry has underwritten more renewable investment than any other and is the driving force behind decarbonization of the electricity grid, which is a massive benefit for us all.

Today the promise of AI is replete with misconceptions … employability, ethics, sustainability all play into a narrative where the public at large are concerned.  

These are misconceptions today because we don’t fully know where this leads us. 

However, I would contend that, in practice, AI applications will need to find a commercial benefit and when these applications emerge more widely, we will learn if any of the current misconceptions hold true.

 

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About the Author

Matt Vincent

A B2B technology journalist and editor with more than two decades of experience, Matt Vincent is Editor in Chief of Data Center Frontier.

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