Open19 Member Profile with Greg Ratcliff, Chief Innovation Officer at Vertiv

The world’s demand for more cloud computing, AI-powered services and other digital transformation activities has fueled unprecedented growth in the data center industry. New data center construction as measured by power capacity has soared and data center operators are pushing to keep resource costs and related carbon emissions at more sustainable levels in the face of climate change, complex energy markets and regulatory regimes.

All of this translates into both big business and innovation opportunities for Vertiv. The global company provides an array of data center equipment and related services, including critical power supplies, thermal management, racks and enclosures, and monitoring and management systems. But Vertiv is also staying ahead of the curve when it comes to supporting data center industry efficiency and sustainability trends that have become increasingly important. 

We spoke with Greg Ratcliff, Chief Innovation Officer at Vertiv, about the major trends and challenges shaping the data center industry, and why Vertiv thought it was important to become a member of the Open19 community that has coalesced around its open hardware standards for data centers.

1. How would you introduce Vertiv in terms of its company mission and what it offers to clients?

Vertiv has a long history of serving data center customers, being founded in 1946 as Capitol Refrigeration Industries. Today, we are a data center equipment and services company that brings together hardware, software and ongoing services to enable the continuous and optimal performance of critical business applications for our customers. Vertiv is well known as an innovation leader in the space and we have an R&D program focused on sustainable solutions that address customer challenges. We are a global company that is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. We have more than 24,000 employees, and are doing business in more than 130 countries. 

2. What does Vertiv see as the most important trends shaping the future of the data center industry? 

It has to be that most of our customers have set sustainability targets. They aren’t just goals, but actual firm dates in the future. Our customers are looking for us to develop infrastructure support systems that help them meet goals like reduced carbon emissions or eliminating water usage within their set timeframes.

To put it another way, we’re fortunate to have customers that are very technically capable of doing things on their own, but they’re using their best and brightest teams to grow their businesses and support the critical internet infrastructure services that the whole world relies on.

As such, they’re relying on OEMs, and vendors like Vertiv, to provide those systems for them and not just components. I think this change has happened in recent years and something we are hearing from customers more is: “Hey, I want a whole solution, I want a modular data center, I want a ready-to-run power ecosystem, not just components.”

I think the growth of the data center industry presents an opportunity to not do the same old thing again. Since there is such tremendous growth, we have the collective opportunity to invest in disruptive and innovative technologies much faster

3. What role do you think Open19 is playing in shaping the data center industry’s future?

Open19 standards generally simplify the work and greatly reduce the labor. If we can do things in a factory environment versus in the field, overall manpower is decreased and the reliability increases through mechanization – maybe even automation! We’ve seen things like robotic patch panels, and some of this is becoming more mainstream. I can see a near future where it will be: “Ship it in, turn it up, get power and cooling to it, and then connect it with automation.”

Also, when systems and designs like Open19 take complex power and cooling and turn them into field-managed “plug and play” systems, we don’t have to upskill folks out in the field on each new piece of technology.  This reduction in system complexity is one of the main benefits of Open19 – the ability to have advanced technology deployed in modularized racks that can be installed anywhere. 

4. Why did Vertiv as a company want to join Open19?

We were excited to take our key capabilities in power, data center design, cooling and rack-level technology and be part of designing a highly sustainable end-to-end system. With technology changing so fast and a highly distributed industry (from server manufacturers, to data center operators to customer choice), Open19 presented an opportunity to work with the larger ecosystem and set defined, open standards around next-generation rack-level technologies.  

5. What benefits do you anticipate getting from being part of the Open19 community?

As an open community, it’s great to be able to engage with end-users like Equinix, OEM partners like Cisco, Inspur, Supermicro, and other key technology stakeholders. Open19 provides a forum to work together and craft industry standards that benefit the community, while allowing Vertiv to do what it does best – bring data center equipment and solutions to market.

6. How is Vertiv planning on contributing to the Open19 community?

Data centers have been holding onto AC power for a long time, but there are also opportunities for efficiency with DC power systems. While we have a long history of innovation in AC power technologies, we also have deep expertise in DC power systems, including high-efficiency DC converters, so that’s an area we believe we can participate in substantially increasing efficiency levels and reducing conversion steps.

If you look at all the different steps that it takes to get the power down to a chip, there are a lot. Our experience in telecom, fiber and other industries that are already leveraging DC power enables us to provide products that are high efficiency. And that’s where we dominate. On the cooling side, every watt we don’t create eases the technological challenges for cooling and that’s great for everybody.7. What do you think differentiates Open19 from related initiatives such as the Open Compute Project? All of the people who want to get behind Open19 have been really vocal. Likewise, all of the players behind Open Compute are really vocal about their approach. Is it bifurcated? I don’t think so. They have a little different angle. So there are folks that will collaborate with both of these approaches.

If something else comes along and it’s called Open45, we’ll probably participate there too. It is about improving efficiency and the process. This is the purpose of a modular data center, right? Pre-design as much as you can. It’s less costly, it’s better for the world, it’s far less labor intensive, and more reliable. 

8. What are you most looking forward to with version 2 of the Open19 standards?

Open19 allows for a system that is more integrated and can support planned work throughout the data center lifecycle, rather than after the fact. In the past, you put in a rack, pick who has the fastest servers of that generation and then worry about keeping the room cool. It was a little bit haphazard. Open19 allows for more efficient outcomes and solutions that “just work” – and that’s what we need now in our industry.

I mentioned before that DC is one of the component areas that we are experts in. We’re learning about liquid cooling, and we have a few products available. Open19 techniques and technology are going to enable low-risk liquid cooling. Nobody wants to have an experiment in their data center, so we need to figure this out and pre-engineer it. Liquid cooling is still experimental in some cases and Open19 represents a great way to take liquid cooling mainstream.9. Where can people connect with Vertiv?

You can find and connect with us on LinkedIn as well as our website.