CAPRE’s Canadian Data Centre Summit Preview: BMO Financial’s Kirby Peters Says Biggest Construction Challenge is Finding Talent

TORONTO, ON — Kirby Peters  is the Director of Critical Facilities at BMO Financial Group. Kirby has over 30 years of experience in the construction, maintenance, engineering and design industry that includes office buildings, airports, data centres and other high-tech facilities. Kirby is currently the Director, Critical Facilities for Bank of Montreal where he provides planning and facilities leadership and operation management oversight for mission critical facilities globally, including data centers, trading floors, call centers and select office towers. Prior to joining BMO Kirby spent 5 years at Hewlett Packard as the Managing Principle where he led the start-up of a Canadian consulting engineering practice specializing in Data Centre builds and optimization. In anticipation of CAPRE’s Fourth Annual Canadian Data Centre and Cloud Infrastructure Summit we connected with Peters to showcase his thoughts on the biggest trends and challenges in the Toronto arena.

New Event SquareCAPRE: Thanks for chatting with us today, Kirby. What’s the BMO perspective on the data centre game?

Peters: It’s been quite busy in the BMO world. Two major activities are going on in our space – one is an aging D/R site. Our primary site is a Tier IV data centre and our D/R site is coming up on 40 years old. It’s had some major components replaced – generators, our high voltage switch gear and transformers are next. But in the long term it will not be able to deliver the reliability we need beyond 7-10 years. So we’re exploring several options: the colocation market and the idea of expanding the data center space on premise. That’s an activity well underway. We’ve had an RFP on the street for a bit now. We’re looking at the colo market as a solution for our D/R site since our existing site is approaching end of life. It’s not dire, and it will take time to migrate our IT over to a new site based on the natural refresh cycle.

CAPRE: What’s the second activity you mentioned?

Peters: Not unlike many banks, the Cloud is also being looked at as an alternative as well. We can’t move everything to the Cloud. We have some heavy workloads or apps with capacity challenges that are being targeted. We’re starting to move some of those workloads and the Public Cloud is something we are seeing as a trend in the industry to solve capacity challenges. Certainly some of our D/R will be on-premise but the Cloud is also being looked at very seriously as an option for our requirements. Our strategy for our D/R site has to be done in lockstep with our cloud strategy.

CAPRE: What kind of lessons are you learning through this process?

Peters: It’s important that our real estate people to know what’s going on with our IT strategy and vice-versa. We (real estate) need to know how much power and space we need and what kind of equipment is going in. We have regular meetings where our real estate people meet with our IT people, to make sure we’re all on the same page with what we need and when.

Kirby Peters, Director of Critical Facilities, BMO Harris

CAPRE: What kind of insight can you share about the Toronto data centre market? What’s the latest in that arena?

Peters: The bank right now is looking at the colo market, and we can see that there’s definitely inventory available — some of it very readily available. Some of it needs construction to meet our specs. But we’re in a good position right now because there is competition. There’s certainly interest out there to customize and meet the specs we’ve asked for. But again, it’s still very early. The tenders are closed, we’re still in the bid leveling activity right now, which will take a few weeks just to get through the final clarifications.

CAPRE: What are you looking forward to about CAPRE’s upcoming Toronto Data Centre Summit?

Peters: Hearing insight on what’s happening in leasing trends and costs. We’re going to market, so I’m going to see some of that as we finalize this process. Also, insight into Cloud reliability is something key that I’m looking for from this conference. I’m looking forward to hearing about industry trends and reports, as well as more insight into what the colo providers are doing. How are they dealing with higher densities in the hybrid cloud deployments? What are the typical leases out there? How are they dealing with regulatory and compliance issues? I know we’re battling some of those challenge

CAPRE: What challenges exist in the Toronto arena?

Peters: Getting good trades and good constructors. All of these companies have the A team, and then the B+ team, and then the B team. For these critical projects, you want the A Team. But there’s only a limited number of A teams out there to execute on the more complex projects. Sometimes, for the various builders and constructors, they may only have one A team. You’ve got to get that A team and it’s that sometimes can be a challenge. It’s worth demanding for that A team though, because it will make the project so much more successful.

CAPRE: What’s the most exciting thing you’re seeing happening in Toronto right now?

Peters: One thing I’m finding intriguing is the impact of what I call off-site construction methods – the industrialization of the design of the data centre. I’m seeing that now take a much stronger hold in the market – utilizing off-site construction to deliver cooling, powerhouses, UPS solutions, and the like. That’s maturing and taking hold. And that can really help manage the costs and the schedule of the project. It’s finally becoming more prevalent.

CAPRE: Thinking about other markets, what makes Toronto stand out? What is unique about it?

Peters: The permitting and regulatory requirements and all of the hurdles to get over. Not only city permitting, but the Toronto Standards and Safety Association (TSSA). Toronto is unique in that you have to plan for the logistics of navigating through, not only the city permits, but the TSSA permits. This can delay your project. It can add costs and time if not properly planned for by your project leader.

And as I mentioned earlier, the availability of the trades. The construction market is extremely busy right now – both commercial and residential, and that’s putting a strain on the trades. Not just electrical and mechanical – the building trades too, Masonry, drywall, carpentry, doors and glass etc. I believe hearing that Toronto has more cranes up and around than anywhere else in North America. We had to put a crane in for a project that is currently underway and we had to make sure that we had it booked in time, because there’s only a limited number of cranes available. They’re tough to find.

CAPRE: Got it. Thanks for your insight, Kirby. We’ll see you, and hear from you, in Toronto!

Hear more from Kirby at CAPRE’s Fourth Annual Canadian Data Centre and Cloud Infrastructure Summit May 23 in Toronto.