Human error accounts for nearly one quarter of all unplanned data center downtime, which costs the average company $300,000 per hour. To reduce the amount of human error in data center management, we would do well to learn lessons from what may seem an unlikely source: the U.S. Navy, and in particular nuclear submarines.

data center management

How nuclear subs relate to data center skills

While a nuclear submarine may seem like a completely different beast from a data center, the similarities in how they should be managed are striking and many. A nuclear sub contains a nuclear reactor plant, a steam plant, electrical and cooling plants, auxiliary systems and more – all stuffed into the back half of the sub. You can imagine the complexity that goes into such a vessel, yet the Navy has succeeded in minimizing human error in the environment by implementing detailed processes and policies – and ensuring they are consistently followed. In addition, multiple levels of system redundancy and interlocks exist, with a back-up system to the back-up system in many cases.

Still, whenever humans are involved, you can’t completely eliminate the possibility of human error.  In the Navy’s case, what it can do is put an intense focus on the people serving on board. It starts with a competitive selection process followed by 15 months of training before a sailor arrives on board. Once on board, an intense training and qualification process continues indefinitely. Learning never stops.

Apply nuclear sub lessons to data center jobs

Data centers today need to be operated with this same kind of mission-critical mentality, and thus data center facilities managers should follow many of the same principles as the Navy.

It starts with hiring the right people. Schneider Electric makes no secret about the fact that it seeks out military veterans for its Data Center Facility Operations group, the folks who run some of the world’s largest data centers. We’ve found military veterans have the right background for success in data center careers. They understand the importance of having well-documented processes and procedures, and following them religiously.

In the data center, that means having standard operating procedures (SOPs) for everyday operations and methods of procedure (MOPs) for conducting maintenance routines. Having an emergency operation procedure (EOP) that is easy to memorize and readily available is also priceless in a time of crisis. Data center personnel must know exactly how to stabilize a data center should a generator not start or if a breaker unexpectedly trips.

The U.S. Navy has formal training around the methodical sharing of information using status boards, change control processes, and documentation of all maintenance. These are all sound practices for running any mission-critical facility, including a data center. (As such, they are included in our eBook, “The 12 Essential Elements of Data Center Facility Operations.”)

Finally, data center personnel, like the sailors on those nuclear subs, should always be learning. Continuing education via on-the-job training as well as formal schooling and periodic drills are imperative to minimizing human error and fostering continued process improvements. That’s why Schneider Electric has a formal Critical Environment Technician (CET) training program in place for the folks who run our customers’ data centers. They learn data center skills including how to effectively use advanced monitoring and management tools such as EcoStruxure IT to ensure data center uptime. The program is also crucial for employee retention, which is a big issue in the data center realm; so long as employees are learning, they tend to want to stay.

Are you a veteran looking for a career in data center management? 

As a military veteran myself, I’ve seen first-hand in my role at Schneider Electric how these core competencies transfer over into mission-critical data center management roles. If you are a vet, I recommend that you explore careers at Schneider Electric, as it offers great opportunities for military veterans. We have a recognition to back that up, too. Recently Schneider Electric achieved the Military Friendly Employer Rating for 2019.

A key challenge facing Oil & Gas executives is how to justify funding of downstream technology modernization projects. Most executives have traditionally only considered outlay of capital for installation and the ongoing cost of maintenance. In fact, an overlooked ratio, Return on Capital Employed (ROCE), provides a more comprehensive and accurate method for calculating efficiency and profitability of a company’s capital investments.

oil and gas

ROCE represents the percentage return that a company makes over its invested capital, a measure of the profitability and value-creating potential after taking into account the amount of initial capital invested. The ROCE ratio is expressed as Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) / Capital Employed. Thus, ROCE can serve as a useful metric for calculating efficiency and profitability and can help determine how to squeeze a higher return out of corporate capital investments.

The topic of industrial plant modernization represents a critical success factor for most Oil & Gas enterprises wishing to remain competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace environment. Therefore, justification for investment should be communicated in a manner that translates the functions of new technologies into terms that reflect ROCE business value. More compact, connected, safer, and lower maintenance technologies have to translate into cost reduction, faster turnover, and higher return on investment.

This introductory blog is one of a three- part series that review the impact of technology modernization on CapEx, OpEx and revenue generation. The three together help to paint an overall picture of how ROCE metric elements can be combined to determine the business value of automation technology investments. All three blogs reflect real-life downstream Oil & Gas industry case studies in which Schneider Electric played a key role as technology consultant and provider.

Case study: Decreased CapEx in an LNG facility

Field studies have shown that automation CapEx can be decreased by up to 42% through reductions in project capital cost, fixed assets cost, cash to cash cycle and new engineering design standards and methodologies. A major fuel distributor achieved this level of CAPEX savings by deploying advanced automation solutions and project delivery methodologies to update their LNG facility.

Below are some of their key CapEx cost savings driver highlights:

  • The biggest contributor to savings ($7.12 Million or 18%) involved an initiative to move control, safety, fire, and gas systems I/O from a Remote Instrument Enclosure (RIE) specific building to a remote I/O cabinet in the field. Cost savings resulted from elimination of buildings, equipment, wiring, bulk material, and construction man hours.
  • The second biggest contributor ($2.3 Million or 5.8%) involved a new technology that automatically detects, interrogates, configures, enables and documents (a process referred to as DICED) field devices. The technology automatically links databases to instruments in the field thereby reducing labor efforts for commissioning.
  • A new generation of PLCs called device integrators represented the third biggest contributor ($2.29 Million or 5.7%) and opened the door to advanced data communications and diagnostics. Compared to traditional approaches, less engineering time is required to configure systems.

Other areas that generated the remaining CapEx savings (a total of $5.44 Million or 13.67%) included Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) cost reductions resulting from use of a standard LNG design, which was copied for each new LNG train, a new field wiring technique that reduced the need for shipping multi-core cables and marshalling cabinets,  a direct sourcing method that eliminated 3rd party markups, a project methodology (called FLEX) based upon repeatable solutions and minimizing scope change, and some new techniques for enhancing safety and standardizing engineering practices.

Access Return on Capital Employed (ROCE) White Paper

To learn more about how Return on Capital Employed (ROCE), can apply itself to downstream investments in process automation technologies, download the new Schneider Electric white paper “Modern Strategies for Higher Return on Capital Employed (ROCE) in Oil & Gas Downstream Operations.”

Written by Victor Kareh, Project Manager and former Army Aviator (West Point Alum)

I spent many years in the military before making the leap into a corporate career.  The main factor behind my transition out of the military was for more family stability and to maintain a reasonable work-family balance.  I found a great fit with Schneider Electric.  Schneider Electric was recently awarded the status of Military Friendly® Employer, and I’d like to share my experience.

Traveling Around the World

I spent years moving from base-to-base; I know most military families can relate. Three weeks after graduating high school, I traveled from San Diego, CA to West Point, NY and reported to the cadet in the red sash as I began cadet basic training.

After graduating, I reported to Ranger School and the Basic Officer course at Fort Benning, GA.  Then I moved to Fort Rucker, AL for flight training.  After graduation, I moved to Pyeongtaek, South Korea and spent a year living on the military base.  The next year I moved to Uijongbu, South Korea.  Nine months later I moved to an apartment in Anjong-Ri, South Korea.  Dizzy yet?  Eight months after the Korean apartment I moved back to Fort Rucker, AL for six months of career development.  I was then moved to Fort Campbell, KY.  Between training exercises, external support requests, and a combat deployment, I spent only 5 of my first 18 months at home.

After so many moves all over the world, my wife and I decided that we needed some stability as we prepared to have children and grow our family.  I was not sure exactly what to expect from this next step in life, but I was on the lookout for an employer that could provide multiple avenues for career growth while supporting a healthier work-life balance.  I am very happy to report that I found such a workplace with Schneider Electric.

Dressing for Success

I had reported to several new units and duty stations while I was in the Army.  Each experience was different: ranging from constant orders and yelling at basic training to an extremely regimented in-processing in the Republic of Korea to a 2-day checklist process stateside.  I had run the gamut of experiences when it came to reporting to a new military installation.

When it came to my first day at Schneider Electric, however, I had no idea what to expect.  In the weeks leading up to my first day, I invested in a new business wardrobe (no more camouflaged combat uniforms).  I spent hours trying to decipher the intricacies of the corporate dress code.  I had spent over a decade learning the restrictions for allowable sideburns (no lower than the opening of the ear, and no individual hair longer than 1/8 inch) or the number of rings one is allowed to wear (2, including wedding set) per Army Regulation 670-1.  Unfortunately, Army regulations did not prepare me to understand coordinating belts and shoes or what color socks to wear with a certain pair of pants.  I had no idea what to expect, but I could at least dress like I knew what was coming.

Thankfully, it turns out I did not have to worry about feeling welcome at Schneider Electric.

Transitioning to A Corporate Environment

I found it easier than I expected to transition from the military to another large organization like Schneider Electric.  The structure of the organization reflects many similarities with the US Army, which helped me transition more smoothly into my new role as a civilian.  Policy memos and other organizational tools helped me identify the new goalposts of the organization, and how I fit into it.  There is so much that changes when you leave the military and being able to identify these organizational similarities helped me step into my new role.

My experiences in the Army were varied, with a range of friendliness to gruff indifference.  At Schneider Electric, I found a strong culture of helpfulness from the individuals within our team.  My experiences with coworkers have been overwhelmingly positive and welcoming.  Since the corporate world was new to me, I asked dozens of questions daily and everyone around me was helpful and patiently answered even the simplest questions I had about the work, the systems we use, or the company in general.  These personal interactions helped make me feel welcome at Schneider Electric and played a key role in making my transition a success.

Support at Schneider

I received strong support at all levels, from my manager to my coworkers to the other Schneider Electric employees with whom I would occasionally interact.  At the time, I remember being amazed at how helpful everyone was to me as a new hire to the company.  It empowered me to get to know the people I work with and ask questions about anything I did not understand.

A particular event that stands out to me is the support I received from the US Services Organization (USSO) chapter of the VETS BRG (Business Resource Group).  At the time, there was no local chapter of the growing VETS BRG in the Nashville area, but the USSO welcomed me to participate in their remote chapter despite my role being outside of Schneider Services.  Rather than informing me that their chapter only covered those working in Schneider Services, the BRG brought me into the fold and provided an opportunity to interact with other veterans throughout the US now working at Schneider Electric.  Through this experience, I felt like I was truly accepted as a part of Schneider Electric.

Support for My Family

My transition from the military to Schneider Electric went well and I appreciate the benefits that the company offers as a part of total employee compensation. However, my personal experience over this past year has really shown me why I really like working for Schneider Electric.

This past January my son was born 15 weeks early and we spent 104 days in the NICU at Vanderbilt hospital.  This was an incredibly challenging time for our family, but we successfully graduated from the NICU and made it home in large part to the support we received from Schneider Electric.  The outreach from my coworkers and management was very touching for our family; the flexibility in work scheduling made all the difference in our son’s life.   With a combination of paid time off, paid family leave, emergency care leave, and working remote from the hospital, my managers allowed me to spend most of the days in the NICU helping my son grow strong enough to come home.

There is no doubt in the doctors’ minds or mine that my presence and care for my son played a dramatic role in his healthy development; this was only possible because of the policies put in place by Schneider Electric and the support of my management team.  I find it difficult to imagine a similar scenario while I was in the military or working at most any other company, where the balance between work and family life includes investment in family.  Schneider Electric invested in me and my family, and a company that is willing to do that for us is a company where I’d like to develop my career.

Company Policies

Schneider Electric has elected to provide military pay differential to its employees who are also a part of the National Guard.  As a company, Schneider Electric ensures that its employees who have chosen to continue serving their country do not experience financial hardships during periods of Military Leave from their jobs.  By offering this benefit above and beyond the minimums proscribed by law, Schneider Electric further demonstrates its commitment to the military community.

Looking Forward to the Future

When I began the transition process I was not sure what I was looking for.  I had vague ideas of what I wanted, but didn’t know if I would be able to find them in an employer.  I am very glad to say that I found what I was looking for at Schneider Electric.  My family and I are grateful for the opportunities that Schneider Electric has provided us.  I look forward to a long and fruitful career with Schneider Electric for many years to come.

If you are a veteran interested in learning more about a career with Schneider Electric, visit our military careers page to learn more information. Current Schneider employee veterans, if you’re not already part of the VETS BRG, I highly encourage you to get involved in a local or remote chapter.

About the Author

Victor is a project manager for Schneider Electric in Nashville, TN.  He is the Nashville chapter president for the Schneider Electric Veteran’s Business Resource Group.  In his free time, Victor enjoys working on projects around the house and spending quality time with his wife, son, and their two dogs.

Each of us can point to a new technology that changed life as we knew it. The TV remote. The PC or Mac. Streaming music and video. In the recent business world, disruptive technologies have included mobility, sensing, analytics, IoT, IoT Edge and, last but not least, cloud.

The cloud was—and remains—huge. The phenomenon of cloud computing led to life-changing digital services such as a revamped Netflix business model. It also launched a frenzy of corporate efforts to move enterprise IT applications to the cloud, which delivers highly scalable computing power, low-cost data storage, and easier access to that data.

Now, more than a decade later, we’re all taking another look at the big brain that is the cloud. For sure we need the cloud, especially for processing huge volumes of data to build, test, and perfect AI models. But does it make business sense to push everything there? When you consider critical environments such as heavy processing (Oil & Gas, petro chemicals), nuclear plants, and mission-critical facilities such as hospitals, the answer is probably no.

“Every big brain must be complemented by strong reflexes that are fast, clear, and commanding.  That’s the IoT Edge.”

Kicking network latency to the curb

IoT Edge comes into play when decisions must be as fast as reflexes. Close to the source of the data for reduced network latency, edge devices that enable this quick decision-making can range from a small, handheld device to an edge gateway.  Even self-driving cars can be considered a large and sophisticated IoT edge device. The car’s brain can’t be in the cloud; the reflexes need to come right away from the car.  All edge devices enable the use of real-time, local information to improve monitoring and control of efficiency, reliability, and safety risk parameters.

What can these devices tell us based on the real-time data they collect from sensors?

“This machine is too hot.”

“This device is about to fail.”

“This remote oil pump really does need a field service engineer to service it.”

I’m not talking about a cloud v. IoT edge scenario. You need both. IoT makes it possible to create a continuous information loop where data from devices at the edge — that is, either on-premise or completely remote “on the field” — can link up to cloud-based enterprise applications and/or push cleaned-up data to the cloud for advanced analytics. The cloud needs the edge and, at the same time, the edge needs the cloud (where you train the AI models executed at the IoT edge).

A balancing act

The goal is to find the right balance between what sits at the edge versus what sits in the cloud (either public or private). An IoT edge strategy makes sense for:

  • The ability to make quick decisions by using data as close to its source as possible to avoid network latency
  • Optimizing data flow to the cloud by processing raw data at the edge and pushing only high-value data (aggregated and contextualized) to the cloud
  • Having offline access to data analytics when cloud / network access is not reliable (e.g., in remote locations such as oil fields or industrial farms)
  • Better life cycle management of a large fleet of devices, which can be updated remotely and securely versus centrally (in other words, the edge processes the update)

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For example, some businesses have remote assets that don’t have reliable cloud / network access. In onshore Oil & Gas, for example, IoT edge gateways solve this challenge. Schneider Electric’s Realift™ leverages Microsoft machine learning capabilities to monitor and configure pump settings and operations remotely, sending personnel onsite only when necessary for repair or maintenance when Realift indicates that something has gone wrong — a huge deal for managing expensive, remote assets such as oil pumps. This is an example of improving efficiency.

The IoT edge also plays a large role in driving sustainability. As is the case with microgrid solutions, which need local analytics in order to optimize a building’s energy use at any point. Smart panels, as edge devices enable this distributed energy management scenario and its promise for more sustainable buildings. We’ve taken this approach at our own NAM headquarters in Boston, and the city of Millford, Connecticut is deploying Schneider EcoStruxure™ Microgrids to support its critical buildings and drive energy savings. Entrade, an OEM that builds micro power plants that can turn biomass such as wood chips, nut shells, or kitchen waste into green energy also advances sustainability, while also being able to manage its fleet of devices efficiency with EcoStruxure™ Machine Advisor.

Capturing the business value of IoT edge

Gartner predicts that 75% of data will be processed at “the edge” by 2022.[i] There are many deployment considerations on how to seize the business value (e.g., integrating IT physical infrastructure to capture local data at the network’s edge, even in rugged environments, when IoT edge adoption becomes widespread across an environment). Learn more ways to ensure that you’re leveraging IoT edge capabilities in the best way for your business.

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Just as the breakthrough cloud was critical for digital transformation, now the IoT edge is fast becoming an essential part of the bigger digital picture, too.

[i] van der Meulen, Rob, Gartner, “What Edge Computing Means for Infrastructure and Operations Leaders, Gartner. October 2017. (updated October 3, 2018 to reflect new research).