Hidden heroes – Dan Oldham.

In this edition of our successful Hidden Heroes series, we meet resolute DigiPlexer, Dan Oldham.

What is your role at DigiPlex?
Service delivery sits right at the heart of our company ensuring we can meet customers’ expectations in an effective, reliable, and sustainable way. I lead a small team which gets involved at an early stage in customer conversations to understand, discuss and agree critical elements of technical requirements, Service Level Agreements, and contractual obligations up front. It is critical for an honest, transparent relationship that both sides are entirely clear on what they want and need, and that DigiPlex are confident on what and how we are going to deliver. The role then continues through contracting, specification, build, handover and mobilisation to ensure that technical and contractual elements are not only met in ways that add value to the business, but are transformed into practical behaviours that ensure consistent service delivery.

Throughout the length of the contract my team and I remain consistent points of contact for the customer underpinning service assurance, often providing the continuity and reference between the customer’s own teams as they move from site selection to contracting, handover and operations. We see ourselves as the ‘Customer Conscience’ in the business representing their best interests as we create solutions and deliver services for them.

What’s your career background?
I’ve worked at DigiPlex for 20-years; right from the very beginning riding the pan-European dot-com boom-and-bust cycle, and then brick-by-brick helping build the business into the leader it is today. This has been an incredible journey and it has been a great privilege to be part of it.

By training I am Chartered Building Services Engineer (MCIBSE) and for 30 years I have worked almost exclusively with data centers. As a civil servant with the UK Government, I was involved with some of the earliest data centers, or computer centers as they were known at the time, as UK income tax was computerised. This and subsequent roles with engineering consultancy WS Atkins, and IT services giant EDS, managing an ever changing and very mixed portfolio of data centers, gave me enormous experience in improving and consolidating the ‘live’ assets gained through outsourcing deals.

What excites you about working at DigiPlex?
I like to roll my sleeves up and get stuck into the detail with a view to making things as good as they can be. Over the past 20-years I have worked in or with almost every role at DigiPlex and so have practical experience and technical understanding of exactly what we do, why we do it and how things work. Professionalism and attention to detail are hard-wired into the DigiPlex culture. I love working with like-minded people to leverage our knowledge and insight not only to deliver what customers want, but to suggest approaches, specifications, and parameters that they may not have considered. In doing this we help DigiPlex deliver outstanding solutions within budget whilst still driving profitable growth. Ultimately, the joy in my role is seeing DigiPlex delivering customer’s requirements in a well-designed, robust, and efficient ways.

How do you see the industry growing?
The industry is at an inflection point. We’ve successfully demonstrated the advantages of consolidating data into purpose-built, professionally operated data centers. This has allowed tens of thousands of businesses to upgrade their IT infrastructures in a cost-effective way and to participate in the ongoing digitalisation of all sector in a sustainable manner. Better to have fewer, larger concentrations of computing power than lots of ageing and inefficient on-premise data centers that collectively present a huge financial and environmental burden.

But these ever-larger, consolidated data centers are, rightfully, attracting the scrutiny of environmentalists and legislators. Massive consumers of power, however efficient, are significant sources of ‘gravity’ in energy grids – drawing power potentially to the detriment of those around.  As digitisation continues, I expect to see these concentrations of energy power leveraged for more than just computing. In the future, data centers will be integrated as part of the utility grid system, on-demand generation of power and continuous contribution of waste heat to satisfy thermal demands of cities.

What’s your soapbox issue?
I think we often forget how young the sector is, and how quickly it is developing. Operating a data center is not rocket science, but there is a ‘science’ in the approach needed. Digital infrastructure is becoming ever-more critical, as demonstrated by its role supporting so many facets of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As it takes on this fundamental role at the heart of the digital economy the industry is learning from the behaviours and attitudes of High Reliability Organisations (HROs). These are the critical industries of the pre-digital world; air-traffic control, oil and gas extraction, nuclear power, etc. They have studied, understand and adapted to the science of disaster theory. They know that incidents occur when a combination of vulnerabilities conspire. A lethal combination of several vulnerabilities may lead to a disaster, but if one or two of those same vulnerabilities can be neutralised through good engineering, process, training, monitoring, reporting or organisational culture that disaster will be averted.

Thankfully, downtime is rare in data centers, but that does not mean it can’t happen. Some in the industry prefer to think that data centers are a ‘plug and play’ technology and can become over-focused on other priorities. But focus on protecting, running and nurturing data center assets is necessary; or else they will bite! The Uptime Institute and training organisations like CNET are helping to instil HRO-like values in the industry and the creation of cultures that put safety, transparency and attention to detail at the heart of data center operations. DigiPlex has been in the vanguard of these moves, but the whole industry needs to take these issues seriously as safe, secure, resilient and robust digital infrastructure is essential to today’s economy.

Outside of the office
As you’d expect, outside of the office I enjoy rolling my sleeves up and fixing things. I’ve converted my classic Range Rover to run on LPG, I tinker with my classic Mini Cooper and tackle aggressive home improvement projects too. As a Brit who lived in Sweden for the last 5 years, my family and I took every opportunity to see as much of that beautiful country as possible. We especially enjoyed exploring the outlying reaches of the Stockholm archipelago on our motorboat.