Companies are being forced to evolve as working from home fast becomes more than just a trend. Fortunately, digital infrastructure giant Equinix has the know-how to make the transition as seamless as possible.
But for Managing Director for Sweden Maria Sundvall, it is not just about delivering the operational nous, but also doing it in a sustainable and socially responsible way. Increased demand for storing and distributing data as workers moved from bustling urban tower blocks to cosy home offices saw the company thrive during the pandemic.
“Companies were faced with a situation where they needed an infrastructure that would support this,” Maria tells The CEO Magazine. As a result, Equinix stocks rose 22.4% in 2020, while many other businesses saw profits tumble. It is a shift that looks set to continue, and indeed accelerate, into the future.
Global market intelligence firm IDC has predicted that by the end of 2021, 80% of enterprises will have a mechanism in place to switch to cloud-centric infrastructure and applications twice as fast as before the pandemic.
An increasingly digital world
Equinix was well placed to support companies throughout this turbulent period with its offer of critical digital infrastructure, more than just the space and power that data centres provide. The benefits offered by such data centres include 24/7 onsite IT support, lower power costs and increased bandwidth, but Equinix goes beyond.
“That is just one piece – we’ve also seen an acceleration of digital in general, because companies have had to change their business models,” Maria explains. “They have been faced with a situation where they have to become more digital – and this is what we are all about.”
The transition has been a great thing for some companies, giving them a competitive advantage. But for other, less digitally advanced companies, it has been more problematic. “It could be a competitive disadvantage if they’re not at the forefront of digitalisation and this is what we can help them with,” Maria says.
With more and more companies cottoning on to the benefits of colocation, spurred on by the pandemic, experts are expecting the hefty growth seen so far within the sector will continue in the years to come.
We’ve also seen an acceleration of digital in general, because companies have had to change their business models.
The Global Interconnection Index, an annual market study released by Equinix in October, forecast that digital service providers would increase private connectivity bandwidth (the amount of data that can be transferred per second) five times over by 2023.
Even before the pandemic struck, a report by Market Research Future projected that the worldwide data centre colocation market would grow from its 2018 value of US$27.9 billion (€23.1 billion) to US$90.7 billion (€75.1 billion) by 2024.
In Sweden, in particular, the data centre market is expected to reach US$2.25 billion (€1.86 billion) by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of more than 6% over the five-year period. However, Maria is swift to differentiate Equinix from other “traditional” data centre companies that simply provide space and power.
“What we actually do is help enterprises build the digital infrastructure that supports their organisations’ initiatives,” she points out. “Some companies have adopted advanced technologies or they’re trying to figure them out, like AI, IoT or 5G. Sometimes the success of these projects is limited because companies don’t have a strategy for how their digital infrastructure should support their innovation efforts, and they don’t have a strategy for how to connect to the cloud, which is necessary today. This is actually what we help customers with.”
Spotlight on Sweden
California-based Equinix expanded its network to Sweden with its 2016 acquisition of Telecity, which also saw it add facilities in Bulgaria, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Turkey. The deal more than doubled the company’s capacity in Europe at the time, making it the largest colocation provider in the region.
Maria joined as the Managing Director of Equinix in Sweden in November 2017, the year after the US$3.8 billion (€3.15 billion) transaction took place. She was charged with overseeing the management, strategy and growth of the company’s Swedish operation.
She brought to the table more than 20 years of country management and sales leadership experience in leading high-tech organisations. She held various sales leadership positions at Infinera, Wind River (an Intel Company) and Dimension Data.
Most recently, she worked at MobileIron, where she led sales efforts in the Nordic market. Now more than 220 companies colocate with Equinix in Sweden in order to connect to business partners and customers across their digital supply chains.
“Equinix is the market share leader for data centre and colocation services in Sweden,” Maria says proudly. “We have three data centres in Stockholm, we have about 70 employees and our business is growing very rapidly.”
The data centre in Bromma is the “most connected” of its kind in the Nordic countries, she adds. She attributes this achievement to some serious investment from Equinix, the result of the company’s confidence in the potential of the market.
“We chose to switch up our investments fairly quickly,” she reflects. “We have invested millions to be able to meet the increasing need in the Nordics for digital infrastructure.”
Maria points to a new development currently underway in São Paolo, Brazil, as evidence of the company’s continued global growth. More locally, it is investing heavily in expanding the capacity of its data centres in Finland – a sign of its high hopes for the Nordic region.
Equinix has rounded up five key trends that will shape the evolution of technology this year.
1. CLOUD-NATIVE INFRASTRUCTURE Open-source and cloud-native technologies are enabling organisations to create and operate scalable hybrid and multicloud architectures on a global scale. As a result, businesses are starting to move away from traditional capex tech solutions. Instead, flexible, outcome-based services with cloud-like consumption models are becoming more popular.
2. EDGE FIRST Centralised data centres are increasingly being overlooked in favour of a distributed, interconnected edge-first infrastructure that is closer to the site of data creation and consumption.
3. 5G Thanks to 5G’s wider area coverage, greater transmission reliability, higher bandwidth and better security, it can handle advanced enterprise services – a first for the world of mobile. Growing demand for 5G will also drive the need for distributed infrastructure to process more data at the edge.
4. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE Although not strictly speaking new, AI has significantly improved both in terms of hardware and algorithmic efficiency, enabling AI processing to be distributed to the edge when more proximity is required.
5. SUSTAINABLE DATA CENTRES Creating a positive impact is the goal as data centres make the move towards environmental positivity by becoming integral parts of their communities. In addition to computing and connectivity, they will offer grid power and heat.
There have also been big dollar injections into operations in Singapore, Osaka, Japan, and Washington DC, US, in recent months. This thriving global network is a massive drawcard for customers, particularly when considering expansion themselves.
“It’s not uncommon that a Swedish customer wants to deploy in South America or Australia,” Maria reveals, making Equinix an ideal partner.
A focus on innovation
New services are also being added all the time, further enhancing Equinix’s appeal. Most recently, the company launched Equinix Metal, a new solution that offers physical infrastructure at software speed.
Benefits include 60-second deploys, DevOps integrations and a customer success team that engages over Slack. Network Edge, another recent addition, offers network services that run on a modular infrastructure platform.
Enabling instant deployment and interconnection of network services, Network Edge reduces capex, while improving performance, simplicity and time to market for users. Equinix Fabric is another innovation which connects digital infrastructure and services on demand at software speed via secure, software-defined interconnection.
With its help, companies can scale hybrid deployments, achieve network agility and directly connect to partners and providers easily and securely. Another exciting service Equinix now offers is the ability for companies to pay using operating expenses (opex) rather than capital expenditures (capex). They can choose the type of server, the storage and the throughput they need, then simply pay by the hour.
“I think that is something that will be very attractive for many customers,” Maria predicts. “In the same way, the network edge services provide virtual services that are on our platform, so people or companies don’t need to own the infrastructure anymore – they can simply lease it on an opex model.”
These new developments are indicative of the incredible scale of the digital transformation that is currently underway and which shows no sign of slowing down – quite the contrary. That is why Equinix must keep adapting and ensure that it is firmly positioned at the forefront of the changing technology landscape.
“We’re constantly looking at how the customer will want to adopt our services in the future, and then we try to accommodate that by being innovative ourselves,” Maria explains.
“With our global platform, 227 data centres in 63 metros, we can help customers build an infrastructure that helps their digitalisation efforts. With Equinix Fabric, we can create a cloud service in minutes. Then with Equinix Metal, a bare metal service, companies can now deploy physical infrastructure at scale and buy bare metal cloud services on demand.”
With a Master of Science in Engineering from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Maria is keenly interested in the raft of innovations that are taking place within the company and also within the wider technology space.
“The central role that Equinix plays in digitalisation and the opportunity to help companies in this area makes the journey to grow our business very interesting for me personally,” she admits, adding that she is particularly fascinated by topics like AI, machine learning, IoT, 5G and robotics, and how these technologies can “bring our society forward”, especially in the fields of health care and education.
“It’s also interesting to see how some of our customers use these technologies in areas like manufacturing to optimise processes,” she says. “We offer them the digital infrastructure that can help them to succeed in these projects and that’s really rewarding.”
I enjoy playing a part in creating more opportunities for women, especially in our sector, which is very much male-dominated.
Maria is convinced that being connected to an “ecosystem” in the digital world rather than operating in isolation is vitally important to a company’s success. This is where partnerships play a critical role.
“Partners are crucial for us because when we deliver a solution to our customers, we can do this much better if we do it in cooperation with, for example, a system integrator or a cloud service partner that can add value, so the solution becomes even stronger,” she reveals.
Companies don’t need to own the infrastructure anymore – they can simply lease it on an opex model.
“So, working with these kinds of partners is really important for us, and Equinix is putting a strong emphasis on building a strong partner network to address customer problems going forward.”
Taking care of its own
While the pandemic has indeed created lots of opportunity for Equinix, it has also posed challenges, with taking care of its own workforce a pressing concern.
“It’s clear that everyone has been affected by the pandemic, with both individuals and companies all under a lot of pressure right now,” Maria says. “For us, there has been a big focus on remaining fully operational at this time, but also on ensuring employees and customers are safe.”
So far, Equinix has implemented numerous measures on both fronts to keep everyone happy. But Maria admits that it has been particularly challenging to keep staff motivated and upbeat when faced with this unprecedented type of physical isolation.
“We try to do a lot of things for the wellbeing of our employees – we do wellbeing activities, we have wellbeing groups, we do workshops to address their health and welfare, we have weekly meditation meetings, physical exercise classes, and we emphasise the importance of employees taking good care of themselves,” she shares.
The company has also introduced “meeting-free Wednesdays” to ensure employees have more flexibility in their schedules.
“As a company, our culture is about caring for our employees and we really want them to have the chance to take care of their own wellbeing and their families because, if our employees feel good, they will do a better job for us as well,” Maria says.
The management team has also had to rethink the way it operates, with managers having to learn new ways to work together and to keep staff in the loop. “We don’t meet on a day-to-day basis in the corridor anymore, so we have tried to focus a lot on communication, to constantly share information and to stay connected,” Maria explains.
To this end, at the beginning of the year, she introduced 15-minute huddles twice per week for the whole management team to gather, share information and bring up any problems for discussion.
“That has really been appreciated by the whole management team,” she says. “We can sort out problems and discuss issues frequently rather than waiting for the bi-weekly management meeting.”
A similar approach has been used for communicating with employees to ensure they were kept up to date with the latest news regarding the pandemic as the situation unfolded. The company prides itself on the diversity of its workforce, with many employees born outside Sweden.
But that means many do not speak Swedish, making it harder for them to access local news reports. By delivering daily updates, managers could ensure that everyone was aware of any new developments and also that they felt supported during difficult times.
“Within the company, we are very focused on building a culture where our employees feel safe, where they feel they belong and where they feel that they matter in the big picture,” Maria says.
“I think it’s really important to build on these values.” One way that Equinix is doing exactly that is with its commitment to create more opportunities for women who have been traditionally under-represented in the field of technology. An example of its efforts in this area is the Equinix Women’s Leadership Network, of which Maria is a chapter lead for EMEA.
Founded in 2011, the network’s vision is to promote gender diversity and develop women’s leadership, and it has grown organically, today reaching all of the company’s female employees around the world.
“I enjoy playing a part in creating more opportunities for women, especially in our sector, which is very much male dominated,” she says. Furthermore, Equinix has highlighted diversity, inclusion and belonging (DIB) as among its core values and is working hard to ensure these flow throughout the business.
In 2019, it expanded its CEO-led DIB program awareness and participation to all levels of the organisation on a global scale, partnering with experts in the field of diversity and inclusion to build a long-term strategy to achieve its objectives.
Maria is confident that these values can be felt throughout the Swedish operation, with its diverse workforce and management team – of the eight managers, four are women. This balance is particularly impressive in Sweden, where the gender gap in technology is surprisingly wide given the country’s strong record on gender equality.
In fact, a report by Plan International, a charity for girls’ equality, found that the widespread perception that Norway, Sweden and Denmark have already reached peak gender equality is likely part of the reason that the gender divide in tech in these countries is yet to be overcome. Tackling such imbalances is clearly top of mind for Maria and for Equinix as a whole.
Keeping its cool
Here are five ways Equinix is prioritising sustainability to meet its green goals.
• ENERGY EFFICIENCY Improving the efficiency of energy use.
• RENEWABLE ENERGY Purchasing 100% carbon-free energy.
• WATER CONSERVATION Conserving water through the selection of efficient and appropriate cooling solutions.
• CIRCULAR ECONOMY Recycling servers, electrical equipment and other related electrical components.
• HEAT RECYCLING Re-using data centre heat where practical, environmentally sound and cost-effective.
“We want to have a culture where people feel that they want to stay with us, and where they feel that we care about them because that makes our relationship even stronger. I think we have achieved that at Equinix,” she asserts.
“The same is true for our customers – we are here to serve them and provide them with solutions that make them more successful.”
Safeguarding the environment
Protecting the future of the planet is also a massive concern for Maria, with research showing that data centres have an important part to play because of their considerable impact on the environment.
“We are large consumers of electricity and while helping the world to become digital, I think it’s really important that we are minimising the impact we have on our planet,” she says.
On average, data centres use an estimated 200 terawatt hours of electricity each year – more than the annual energy consumption of several countries. When it comes to carbon emissions, they are responsible for contributing around 0.3% to the overall tally.
That is a significant chunk of the 2% of global emissions that the entire information and communications technology (ICT) industry accounts for, which puts ICT on a par with the aviation industry when it comes to emissions.
Furthermore, it is a figure that it expected to climb substantially over the next 10 years. So, what is Equinix doing to turn things around? Data centre power efficiency is measured in terms of power usage effectiveness (PUE), which is calculated by dividing the power delivered to the facility by the power consumed by the IT equipment.
Equinix recently adopted more ambitious regional PUE design targets for new sites as well as major expansions. These targets are based on an average annual PUE at full load (with redundancy), which meets the definition for PUE Category 3. Its current goals range from 1.29–1.4 and represent an average incremental efficiency gain of 8–10%.
For existing sites, Equinix is working to achieve PUE Category 1. These goals are part of a wider strategy to help Equinix become 100% “clean”. In the EU, Equinix purchases 100% renewable energy for all sites, and across the world its energy sources are now 90% renewable.
The business has also joined the joined the Climate-Neutral Data Centre Pact in the EMEA region. When it comes to the environment, Maria believes the emphasis should be both on how Equinix builds and operates its data centres.
By making sustainability intrinsic to the company’s daily operations, she hopes to make a big difference. The recycling of waste heat is one area of focus.
“We are currently running a project in Sweden where we look at how we can use our waste heat to heat houses and offices in the neighbourhood,” she explains. In addition, a cold aisle containment project separates the cold and hot air in Equinix’s data centres using physical barriers, which results in lower energy consumption.
The company has also been replacing lighting systems with more energy-efficient alternatives and has been building data centres which use machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify new energy-efficient improvements.
Although this last innovation has not yet been introduced in Sweden, Maria is hopeful it will soon take place. Major strides are clearly being made in this critical area, with Equinix taking the challenge seriously.
If our employees feel good, they will do a better job for us as well.
At the start of the year, it committed to ensure European data centres would become carbon neutral by 2030 by forming the Climate Neutral Data Centre Operator Pact and Self-Regulatory Initiative in partnership with European cloud infrastructure and data centre providers and European trade associations.
The agreement will see stakeholders work together to transition Europe to a climate-neutral economy in support of the European Data Strategy and the European Green Deal. It aims to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
In what has been an uncertain year, the pace of digital transformation has accelerated with Equinix at the forefront of this fascinating evolution. What the next year holds remains to be seen, but what is certain is that by placing the customer at the core of everything it does, Equinix Sweden will be there to support companies into the great unknown.
Proudly supported by: