The data center space is constantly evolving, presenting frequent opportunities to leverage the cutting-edge technology that it provides the infrastructure for. Beyond any doubt, the biggest buzzwords of the last twelve months and the foreseeable future are AI and Machine Learning. With us today is Raymond Burrell from EkkoSense, a company that aims to leverage its cloud-based data platform to turn the potential of ML and AI into operational optimization for data center operators.
TR: What is your background, and what brought you to EkkoSense?
RB: I grew up in Lansing, Michigan, with a Midwestern salt-of-the-earth upbringing. After attending the University of Michigan, I moved to California to pursue more opportunities, live close to the Ocean and chase my dreams. Since moving into the professional world, I have been fortunate enough to work in corporate software with chapters at Johnson Controls, Trane, and Schneider Electric. I’ve also had my own consulting and contract business as a one-man shop. My introduction to EkkoSense came through a colleague who used to work with me at Schneider. While Schneider has about 140,000 employees globally, EkkoSense is a smaller organization with approximately 60 employees. My colleague knew that this combination of innovation and agility was interesting to me. When he heard I parted ways with Schneider, he reached out to gauge my interest. Shortly thereafter, he decided to take an opportunity to return to Schneider, which gave me the good fortune of benefiting from all the work he had done the previous nine months. That foundation combined with my unique skill set, provided a great launch pad into this chapter of my career. I think everyone’s uniquely different in how they sell and what they sell. I tend to be the tip of the sword: creating and securing new relationships and opportunities. That lends itself to what EkkoSense is trying to do accomplish in NAM, which is to establish a more permanent and stable footprint in the United States.
TR: What are the origins of EkkoSense? Where do they fit into the data center ecosystem?
RB: During a recent data center optimization project, I spent some quality time with one of the founders, Stu Redshaw, where I was able to ask him about the company’s history. Stu got his PhD in mechanical engineering/HVAC, and at that time he was looking at CRAC units and HVAC units for telecom. A friend of his turned him onto a telecommunications company that was having trouble cooling their small server rooms for each tower. He created a unit specifically for this purpose, and it was well received. He grew this business for 10 years and was naturally pulled into the data center space, ultimately focusing on auditing and thermal optimization. Soon enough, they were talking about IT capacity and power distribution, followed by simulation of electrical and mechanical distribution systems. Today we can create a digital twin of your data center, and then optimize it using machine learning and artificial intelligence. Through machine learning, we can determine the ideal operating state of the data center, and the AI engine makes recommendations on how to maintain that optimized state and take advantage of additional value-add opportunities.
TR: How do your customers interact with your software platform?
RB: EkkoSense is a cloud-based software platform; an intentional decision was made to go this direction because cybersecurity is extremely important to us, and we are proud to be ISO 27001 certified company. I think the ease of installation and the light touch that we have is really attractive to customers. They operate in mission-critical environments, and we provide a seamless implementation process that minimizes any disruptions to their operations.
TR: What types of customers are you targeting? Where are you finding traction?
RB: Our primary target is hyperscalers, and we have also found success with Tier 2 data center providers. The reason being, they often have fewer resources and require our software features to effectively maintain and manage their infrastructure. But the beautiful thing about EkkoSense is that, if an organization has white space, a data center, or are in colo, they really are a potential client. In fact, we have clients ranging from small enterprise corporations all the way up to the largest colocation company in the world. We are well positioned to serve all customer segments.
TR: Does EkkoSense’s optimization software lend itself better to improving legacy facilities or for green field development projects?
RB: Our optimization software is highly effective in improving both legacy facilities and green field development projects. An existing legacy data center is an ideal target for us because we get to maximize the amount of value that we bring. From a green field perspective as soon as the certificate of occupancy is signed and the building has been commissioned, it starts to fall into disrepair do to design flaws and human intervention. You have maintenance personnel adjusting critical equipment manually. You have tenants and other folks coming in and doing things without notifying the owner or following standard operating procedure. Before you know it, the building’s running wide open. A building’s energy spend is one of the biggest operating costs for many organizations. Continuous optimization is always going to be important, whether it’s a brand new state-of-the-art facility, or a legacy building. You might think that a new building wouldn’t have huge energy savings potential. However, we find they’re the customers who are suffering from overcooling; they may be using 15% more thermal capacity than needed and they don’t even know it.
TR: How does your optimization software integrate with other software stacks?
RB: It is not meant to replace any of the existing software stacks, like BMS, EPM, or DCIM. We’re actually meant to be the aggregator, providing a single pane of glass or a unified interface where all electrical, thermal, and environmental data can be accessed, enriched and interacted with on a daily basis. The more information you can aggregate, the more knowledgeable our machine learning becomes, empowering our artificial intelligence engine to make good recommendations.
TR: Does that require much customization for particular installations?
RB: Our ability to maintain a light touch and ease of installation is impressive given we execute our projects in live mission critical environments. We pride ourselves on our ability to quickly deploy our solutions, often getting customers up and running within a week. Most of these software stacks use open protocols these days, like MODBUS, BACnet, SNMP, or the new one MQTT. If a system speaks these languages, then can plug in and integrate that data rather seamlessly, ensuring a smooth implementation experience for our customers. We also have hardware solutions that don’t require access via software; providing installation flexibility, we like to get in where we fit in.
TR: Your own focus has been on expanding in North America, how has that been going?
RB: Our footprint in North America is certainly growing. While we have already engaged with several customers who have large footprints, most of our partnerships are in the earlier stages of pilots or proofs of concept or are just starting to roll out on a larger scale. I’m kind of old-school in my approach when it comes to business development, which means I like to get out in front of people, visiting them in their home cities or at project locations. I maintain healthy connections, constantly growing the network, my customers’ business’s interests are always top of mind for me. That approach fosters strong organic relationships. We also participate in networking events, sponsor customer events, provide continuing education and countless demonstrations.
TR: Why has North America been a tougher nut to crack than somewhere like EMEA?
RB: It may simply be a result of the natural evolution of our business. One of the biggest challenges has been consistently setting up and establishing resources within a country. Like any other business venture, combination of factors, such as the right strategy, selection of resources, and justifying the necessary investment. However, given the traction we have gained, I believe we are right on track. If we had gone in heavier a few years ago, we might have diverted our attention from our ongoing success in Europe and other international markets. EkkoSense is only a 10-year-old company, and as AI continues to evolve, we are strategically positioning ourselves for success in this emerging field.
TR: What assets do you have in place so far?
RB: We have strategically established partnerships to support our operations. While the business address is in Florida, we have embraced the hybrid remote approach. I am based in southern California, and we have dedicated people or partners located in New Mexico, in Denver, in Texas, and on the East Coast. As part of our growth strategy, we recently brought on a director to manage and grow our Channel Partners, further strengthening our assets and positioning us for future expansion.
TR: What new capabilities are you looking to add to your software platform in the next year and beyond?
RB: We recently released version 8.0, in which we’ve introduced several exciting enhancements to our software. One significant enhancement is the revamped estate page, which now offers users even more information with better graphics and navigation. We are particularly proud of the EkkoScore feature, which quickly highlights areas that require attention, allowing users to proactively address potential issues. Looking ahead, we are thrilled to announce the upcoming launch of our simulation feature, scheduled to come out in the first half of 2024. This highly anticipated addition will enable users to simulate the impact of making changes, whether it’s upstream or downstream on the mechanical or electrical distribution. By simulating different scenarios, users can gain valuable insights without risking any real-time disruptions in mission-critical environments.
I’m also advocating for the inclusion of a visual representation of the entire mechanical distribution. Right now, we have visualization for the power distribution all the way up to the site mains. Users can interact with every piece of power equipment they have if they’ve chosen to install the system in that way. The goal is to extend that feature all the way into the central plant. Another goal is to map the digital twin that encompasses not only the white space and electrical distribution but also the mechanical distribution. With this holistic view, we will be able to provide recommendations and optimizations across the entire spectrum, empowering users to maximize efficiency and performance.
TR: What challenges do you see ahead?
RB: One challenge I foresee is limited bandwidth for myself and my customers. In an ideal world, I’d have the luxury of a private jet so I could fly around and connect with everyone. Despite the logistical limitations, I am encouraged by the feedback we’ve gotten. I grow more confident with every call, every demonstration, every interaction I have as I see the significant impact our product can have on our customers’ day-to-day operations. My job is really just to generate excitement and interest by showcasing our capabilities, educating our customers, and providing support throughout their evaluation process. Building relationships takes time, and maybe the biggest challenge in the face of such an exciting opportunity. Practicing patience is a lifelong pursuit but one specifically relevant for a growing upstart company looking to disrupt the status que.
TR: What do you think people in the data center sector should be asking themselves in today’s market?
RB: A crucial question that people in the data center sector should be asking themselves is how they plan to incorporate emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive their businesses forward. If you’re not asking yourself that question, you’re already falling behind. If you’re not already exploring the potential of AI and technologies like ChatGPT, or experimenting with new tools, you’re most likely losing your innovative edge, and potentially customers. The early adopters are going to reap the biggest benefits of this latest technological wave.
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
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