“There is no greater concentration of computing professionals in a single place interested in efficiency, scale, openness and impact, than the OCP summit,” stated Rob Coyle, PCX’s director of sales and marketing.
Coyle, who oversees the customer’s journey at PCX Corporation, while working to remove friction from the client’s problem-solving process, recently presented and hosted an industry discussion at the 2020 Open Compute Project (OCP) virtual summit.
Coyle, who has extensive experience selling and working within both the commercial construction and data center markets, has become a veteran attendee and presenter at OCP conferences perennially. However, Coyle experienced a very different summit in 2020, due to the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 & The OCP
The 2020 Open Compute Project Summit was originally scheduled to take place the first week of March. However, the threat of the COVID-19 virus forced officials to delay the summit, and instead transform the conference into the OCP’s first all-virtual summit that took place from May 12-15, 2020. OCP officials made the decision to ensure the safety of attendees and presenters, while conforming with the CDC’s recommended precautions and federal legislature.
For Coyle, sharing his and PCX’s lessons learned, the solutions the company has developed and engaging with the OCP community took a digital-first approach in 2020. Coyle was originally slated to host both an open discussion on “What Defines a Modular Data Center,” as well as present a 90kw modular data center design package submission to an in-person audience. Coyle prepared to reach the OCP community to collaborate and shape the direction of data center solutions available to market, while learning what others in the space are doing to solve problems plaguing the industry. The only difference? He would be doing it remotely from his personal computer, a new reality that the novel coronavirus has brought upon many, as individuals continue to abide by social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates.
While information technology experts, computing professionals and data center industry representatives were still able to meet and engage with one another in a common, virtual space hosted by OCP officials, it was far from traditional protocol. But this new, digital format proved beneficial for the OCP and its affiliates. According to the OCP Virtual Summit recap, over 10,855 registered individuals and 2,429 organizations were in attendance, setting an all-time engagement record for the OCP and providing Coyle with a wealth of industry representatives to reach.
With a new format, an exponential increase in attendees and the OCP community proving it can still utilize alternative methods to meet, learn and overcome the effects of the pandemic, we caught up with Coyle to discuss the impact of the precedent-setting conference and its effect on the data center sector:
An Open Discussion
The main theme of this year’s summit was “Open for All”. Could you briefly explain what that means to PCX and the industry? How did your presentations exemplify this theme?
Coyle: The adoption of OCP technology is expanding to markets beyond the hyperscale. No longer is the adoption of open and efficient equipment just reserved for Facebook and their peers. Our contribution is about taking that technology and making it more turnkey for all levels of the data center market. From the edge to the core, enterprise systems to hyperscale, our clients are taking a modular approach to their data center projects. We want to make sure the systems within our modular solutions fit their latest needs.
As a veteran attendee and presenter at numerous OCP conferences, how do you feel about the conference going predominately virtual this year, due to the COVID-19 conference this year? What were the aspects of this change that really stood out to you?
Coyle: I applaud the organizers of the OCP for adjusting so quickly and bringing us all together in a safe way. This conference is so important to the community, as we all focus on solving the latest problems in a collaborative way. I was pleased how community members were able to connect, to have an immediate impact on our follow-up discussions and subgroup meetings. The activity and participation increased immediately following the virtual summit.
While presenting, like any web-ex meeting, it is more difficult to read the room on the subjects you should spend more or less time on. Fortunately, the Q&A sessions after the presentation were well attended and provided a forum for active discussions.
Do you feel more individuals were able to participate and contribute this year, due to the accessibility of the conference on-line? How do you feel this was exemplified in the data center space or your own presentations?
Coyle: The organizers have told me the participation is a record one! The conference gave us all the ability to interact and consume new content concurrently, without ever leaving our homes. The cost of travel and time required away makes these conferences a significant investment, I’m sure the convenience helped attendance. The OCP community is a global one, I really enjoy connecting with my peers in other parts of the world.
How did you feel about conducting your presentations virtually, as opposed to in-person? What were the benefits of this approach?
Coyle: Another benefit to the virtual conference is eliminating the travel time within these large convention centers. Someone who finds a topic interesting can easily drop in on a presentation and move from session to session with ease. I know my session had attendances from those that would not have traditionally made the journey if their previous session was far away.
You conducted a round-table discussion on “What Defines a Modular Data Center” for the OCP virtual summit. How was engagement effected by conducting this virtually? What do you believe was the biggest takeaway from this discussion, for your audience?
Coyle: In-person discussions often have a higher participation rate for round-tables. The presentation method had me outline the purpose of our discussion in advance and then the Q&A session was used to go around the room and share comments and questions. The topics that participants shared in the round-table are now being added to the agenda of our regularly scheduled meeting. I’m really looking forward to our upcoming meetings being a platform where we can talk about liquid cooling, partnerships, and more exciting new projects!
How did you engage with your target audience this year, as opposed to other times where you would be speaking to industry representatives in person? How did you share and subsequently learn from the community in a virtual setting?
Coyle: Most of our connections had to be planned in a virtual based discussion. You are not going to easily jump into a discussion at lunch or at the bar like you do in a traditional setting. One benefit of scheduling is that the conversations were more directed and had clear purpose. I have just as many if not more action items to take away from this conference.
Did the value proposition of your presentation and discussion change due to this year’s impromptu approach to presenting and contributing at the conference? What strategies, tactics or content changes did you utilize to ensure you could communicate the benefits of modular data centers at this year’s conference?
Coyle: Virtual or not, the value is the same to our clients. If anything, the challenges facing the data center industry are amplified during this challenging time. Higher demands on our digital infrastructure and limited ways to build is a perfect problem to be solved by a modular approach.
You presented PCX’s OCP approved design for a modular data center at the conference this year. Could you talk a little bit about this feat and explain how this solution is an important step forward for collaboration and inclusiveness in the data center sector?
Coyle: The modular data center space has been held back by proprietary designs and limited equipment compatibility. Today, most modular products are developed by electrical, mechanical and IT equipment manufacturers for use of their own equipment. This approach keeps design and development centered around the equipment used and not necessarily around the best solution.
The platform provided by the OCP community allows for vendor agnostic designs enabling the use of class leading solutions. By sharing design files and making them open source, members of the community are free to use and further develop what we provided. Though we have +25 years of experience in modular infrastructure, we know other viewpoints will only improve the modular offerings in the market. Furthermore, open development of modular solutions allows the integration of other OCP solutions from rack and power, advanced cooling and more. We are proud of what we have built and learned over the thousands of projects and many years in modular. By sharing these experiences and lessons, we will encourage others to share, grow to further reduce costs, increase efficiencies and have a real impact in the data center community.
You have said in the past that the only requirements for joining your presentation sessions is interest, as you welcome all perspectives and are eager to learn more about different aspects of the industry. What was your biggest takeaway from this conference on the data center side? Why?
Coyle: People and companies are seeing that we are living in a time of rapid change. More people believe , more than ever, that we cannot build the future with our methods of the past. How that is exactly done is being figured out as we speak, but modular will certainly be playing an increased role in all construction, but even greater in data centers.
How do you feel the virtual nature of this conference will affect future conferences moving forward? Should we expect to see more virtual presentations and conferences in the industry moving forward?
Coyle: It was a great experience and it allowed more people to participate. I have already seen the creation of brand new conferences that are 100% virtual. Many people still prefer a face-to-face event, and for that reason I believe you will see a hybrid approach for larger conferences in the future. Virtual elements of in person conferences will be more prevalent to improve the experience and grow participation.
Do you have any other thoughts on the conference, presentations, or modular data centers that you would like to add?
Coyle: It is a trying time for everyone. But the kindness, patience and support I have seen in the data center industry makes me very hopeful for our future. In my experience, those who are involved in the Open Compute Project exemplify those qualities. I am proud to work with some of the greatest team members and clients in the industry.
For more information on the OCP Virtual Summit and official recaps of the presentations, please visit https://www.opencompute.org/summit/virtual-summit. For more detailed information on the 2020 OCP Virtual Summit’s engagement metrics, please access the official report here.
For official updates on the COVID-19 virus, information and protective precautions, please visit https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019. For more information about PCX Corporation or any of its industry leading products and solutions, please call 919-550-2800, visit pcxcorp.com or network with us on LinkedIn.