Before joining Equinix Germany in 2014, Jens-Peter Feidner had never worked in the IT sector. His background was in finance and accounting, where he held roles with both Bosch and Ernst & Young.
In his personal life, though, he has held a long-time fascination with computer technology and its disruptive impact on business and society, which is why he was drawn to Equinix, a Nasdaq-listed multinational that provides data centres and connectivity services to some of the world’s largest companies.
“I’ve always been a little geek with a big interest in computers and all types of technology,” Jens-Peter says. “It’s probably fair to call me an early adopter, especially on smart-home devices. Sometimes, I annoy my wife and family by making another room or device smart when they didn’t expect it.”
Equinix is the global leader in digital infrastructure, meaning it is at the centre of numerous upheavals and changes across various industries as they digitalise. Jens-Peter, who became Managing Director of Equinix Germany in 2019, says being able to put his obsession to use in his professional life is one of the key things that drives him as a leader.
“This is home for me,” he says. “It is incredible to contribute to digital developments that allow access to goods or media for pretty much everyone on Earth. Services like Uber or Airbnb, which have made things that existed for decades or centuries accessible and easy to use for everyone. All this videoconferencing and communications software that allow people to exchange ideas and collaborate, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence – all these new developments can make our lives easier, better and safer.”
Equinix’s services are used by companies across all industry sectors, including manufacturing, automotive, finance and health care, as well as ecommerce and media.
The company offers a wide range of interconnection services to its partners, allowing them to connect privately and directly in a fast, secure and reliable way. The company has over 350,000 of these interconnections globally. In Germany, it provides interconnection services and colocation data centres to around 1,000 companies.
“It’s not just that we have a great product, but that we have great people. When you have both, work is just fun.”
But the company has also built numerous offerings on top of that, including one called Equinix Fabric, which allows partners to have the same service but make it entirely software defined, meaning only one physical connection is required, and then the rest is done via connections to cloud services. This option gives partners more network agility and enables them to easily scale their deployments globally.
The company also offers “as-a-service” options in both hardware and software. “So many customers are asking for as-a-service, where we take away the burden of managing their hardware,” Jens-Peter says.
According to Jens-Peter, one area where Equinix makes a large impact on society is with its colocation data centres. A colocation centre is one where rack space is provided to customers, and their own servers are kept alongside those owned by numerous other companies. The service allows businesses to continue to have their own data centres without having to expend the resources required to maintain them.
“Colocation data centres have such a wide range of uses across society,” Jens-Peter says. “We are recognised in Germany, as in other countries, as part of the critical national infrastructure.”
The pandemic has helped highlight their importance, with the use of colocation spiking in certain areas. When huge numbers of employees in Germany and around the world were sent home at the start of the pandemic, it created a huge demand for cloud-based office software and videoconferencing. Equinix played a key role in helping to facilitate this with its partners.
As online shopping boomed, one phenomenon in Germany that the company’s services underpinned was of small, traditionally offline retailers collaborating to quickly enter the ecommerce sphere.
“In Germany, you often have bicycle shops where you go, you select a bike, they fit it out for you, and then you pick it up and bring it home,” Jens-Peters says. “You couldn’t do that during COVID-19, so those shops came together and built a platform online where customers can go and make customised choices on their bikes. Then their nearest store gets the order, sets it up, then you can either pick it up or they deliver it.”
There has also been a spike in digital medical services because of the pandemic, with demand for data centre services booming as people consulted their doctors online or downloaded COVID-19 warning apps on their smartphones. Equinix also provided the digital infrastructure that AstraZeneca used in developing its COVID-19 vaccine.
Another way colocation centres can have a positive impact on society is by helping to reduce the carbon emissions produced by internet usage. A large number of businesses are now closing their inefficient on-premises data centres and moving into larger, more efficient and more sustainable colocation centres.
Using a shared data centre can be up to eight times more energy efficient than having your own, Jens-Peter says. “You can say colocation is like taking the bus together. Rather than everyone going to town in their own car, you all go on the bus. It’s larger, but in the aggregate, CO2 emissions are smaller altogether.”
On top of that, Equinix has invested heavily in reducing energy usage and switching to green energy. All of Equinix Germany’s data centres have purchased 100 per cent of their power from renewable energy sources since 2014. The company recently committed to being climate neutral in Europe within the next eight years, mirroring a similar commitment made by the company globally.
“We’re pretty much the first in the data centre industry to set global climate neutral targets for 2030 based on real science-based targets,” Jens-Peters says. “We’re also looking at our new builds, our data centre designs, and making them more efficient.”
Sustainability for Equinix Germany goes further than its power usage. The company has collaborated with city planners in building its new sites in an eco-friendly way that improves the surrounding landscape.
“We do very careful landscaping on new facilities, so you will see trees and hedges and grass in front of them,” Jens-Peter reveals. “When we build them, we don’t just put a concrete slab on the soil. We remove soil contaminated from prior industries on the plots we acquire, and we actually make the water cleaner by doing that.”
The company also uses waste heat and solar panels for some of its buildings, while running various projects with local authorities to use waste heat in larger environments. It has also entered into a partnership with Etalytics, a local startup, to use AI to manage cooling systems in a more sustainable way as part of a pilot project in Frankfurt.
Equinix made its global commitment to becoming green in 2015, ahead of many other companies. “This is the right thing to do,” Jens-Peter stresses. “We all live on this one planet. I have two small children. They’re seven and 11 years old. We need to achieve those goals together, cooperatively. That’s what we do and what we believe in as a digital infrastructure provider.”
The right partners
Maintaining a strong focus on being green is one way Equinix stays true to its goal of delivering outstanding quality, with the customer at the centre of everything the company does. That ambitious attitude is made possible by the support it receives from a broad range of meaningful, long-term partnerships.
“We want the customers to feel they are the main focus in every way, in how we interact with them, in the services they get, in terms of our uptime and all other things,” Jens-Peter says.
“You cannot achieve that as a data centre operator standing alone. You have partners, you have supplier partners, you have sales partners, systems operators, the big cloud providers, software companies. All of those, together with us, form this ecosystem that we provide. If we don’t pick the right ones, the reliable ones that have the same quality statement we have, we can’t provide that quality to our customers.”
Choosing the right partner from a strategic perspective is far more important than choosing one that will help you to cut costs in the short-term, Jens-Peter says. “Equinix as much as every other large corporation needs to look for shareholder value. But again, it is important to have the customer at the centre, and we do that by picking the right partners, not the cheapest ones.”
A prime example of this philosophy in action is Equinix Germany’s cooperation, started in 2014, with the Frankfurt-based power provider Mainova – one of whose shareholders is the City of Frankfurt. Mainova supplies Equinix Germany with green power, but over the years, the relationship has developed to become one that is far more than just transactional.
Last year, Equinix Germany and Mainova delivered a joint project to bring shared electric cars to Equinix’s staff. During work hours, the cars can be used for travelling to meetings and customer visits, while after work, staff can rent the cars for private use at a low price. “That’s especially good for young employees who maybe live in the city centre and don’t have their own car but need to go somewhere,” Jens-Peter explains. “So this is a good example of where we have a longstanding relationship with a reliable partner that just knows what we need.”
For tech-focused companies like Equinix, Jens-Peter believes the challenges facing leaders are less about new systems and software, and more about the way employees think about their roles in shaping the digital future.
“This question of leadership is key. It’s extremely important,” he says. “I recently met with a large group of high-profile CIOs. Their main challenge and concern was the digital mindset of their employees. Leading people through these times requires a full portfolio of leadership skills.”
The key to building such skills across an organisation, and in embodying them as an executive, is trust and flexibility in the work environment. “Managers in the past wanted to keep a close eye on the team’s work – that won’t work under this new normal,” he adds. “Even in Germany, where we might not have been as advanced as other countries when it comes to flexible work, things are changing.”
Instead of closely monitoring teams or micromanaging them, the new environment calls for an interactive and highly collaborative model, where people are free to make decisions with confidence and where errors are allowed to happen. “You’ve got to trust your team. You’ve got to be flexible. This will bring the best results in this new environment.”
Paradoxically, allowing people to feel OK about making errors is part of a culture of excellence at Equinix Germany. As long as the team’s ultimate focus is on creating an outstanding customer experience, there can be no shame in taking risks and, when necessary, learning from one’s mistakes, Jens-Peter says.
At the same time, the company is bold and unapologetic in its approach to diversity and inclusion. “We have a very special culture at Equinix – we call it the magic of Equinix,” he shares. “We want every employee to be here and say, ‘I’m safe. I belong. And I matter.’ This is a workplace where we’re actively working to create that. This is especially close to my own heart, of course, as I have two small kids.”
The Equinix Women’s Leadership Network offers a space where female employees can collaborate and build a stronger network together while also being welcoming of men who want to do their part to support gender equality in the workplace.
There are also employee-led initiatives like PrideConnect, BlackConnect and InterAsianConnect, all aimed at promoting the experiences of traditionally marginalised communities within the company.
Equinix Germany was one of the first countries in the group to adopt employee councils, diverse groups of between eight and 12 people whose role is to make proposals and initiate actions aimed at promoting inclusivity.
“They had the idea to put the pride rainbow flag on our electric cars, things like that,” Jens-Peter says. “So it’s a grassroots-up approach from employees, all employees, sponsored by management, that binds people to the company and builds this network.”
This approach extends to the talent acquisition process as well. “You always want the best people in their job, but you also want people whose personalities match up with this culture – people who match with the magic of Equinix,” he enthuses.
While it was a love of technology that first attracted Jens-Peter to Equinix, it is the unique company culture and its people that energises him on a day-to-day basis and helps him thrive at the company.
“It’s not just that we have a great product, but that we have great people,” he says. “When you have both, work is just fun.”
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