In the data center space, Schneider Electric is well known for its power, cooling, and rack management services. But the company wants to reinvent itself, pivoting from a hardware to a software provider.

“The strategy is: we want to be a data company,” said Russell Senesac, director of data center business development, IT Division at Schneider. He described the company’s move as an “aircraft carrier turn.”

“We’ve used our hardware in the past to pull through software services, and these have been directly related to data center management,” Senesac said. “Our vision moving forward: we’re a $38 billion global company trying to move to a software- and services-led company that pulls through hardware.”

Schneider made its first play in this transformation this week, with its new cloud-based data center management-as-a-service platform. It’s vendor agnostic, and it gives users visibility into hybrid data center environments. This includes information about devices, smart alarms, and monitoring through an open system that collects data from these devices, regardless of vendor.

It can provide real-time recommendations so companies can optimize infrastructure performance and mitigate risk. It also provides insight into potential risks by leveraging global benchmarks and analytics in a data lake.

Companies can access this information anywhere, from any device.

Centralized IT Data Lake

The product, called EcoStruxure IT, aims to create a massive data lake for the entire IT ecosystem, Senesac said.

“If you look at IT markets in general, we lack a centralized data lake that ties into all these pieces and parts of our ecosystem,” he explained. This runs the gamut from data center power and cooling, to infrastructure from Intel, Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE, and all the other major players, to “application-layer stuff with Microsoft and Oracle and VMware.”

The goal is to use these companies’ data sets, combined with Schneider’s to build an IT data lake, Senesac said.“Why not build this huge central repository, and then people can write apps and analytics on top of it?”

He calls this piece “actionable intelligence” and says Schneider is in a unique position in the data center ecosystem to lay the foundation for it. The company has been collecting data from the “physical layer” — everything from utility pole transformers to uninterruptible power supply [UPS] devices — for years.

“We have a huge install base, about 13,000 customers that are connected, and we’ve already started to build a data lake,” Senesac said. “Now we’re going up in the IT stack and putting the physical data together with the IT data.”

Partnerships with technology companies give Schneider the “ability to go in at the hypervisor layer in a virtualized environment,” he explained. This visibility provides data on servers and storage capacities, routers and switches, software license agreements, and operating systems versions. “So we’re grabbing all that data.”

Key Schneider Partnerships

These partners include Cisco, Nutanix, NetApp, VMware, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Dell EMC, and others.

And because Schneider isn’t competing with these data center technology giants, the companies allow Schneider to connect to their devices and access their data.

“We show up and they say, ‘hey you can connect to anything you want because you’re vendor agnostic in this space,’” Senesac said. “That’s why we are uniquely able to create this cloud.”

For example, Schneider partners with all of the leading hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) vendors and provides data center management software and reference architectures for these companies’ HCI systems.

“We have the ability to go into an IT environment and identify whether or not hyperconverged architecture would be a good fit: ROI studies, and costs to deploy,” Senesac said. “And then we can take that data and work with one of our partners like Nutanix or HPE on a reference architecture for your data center. We then wrap the power the cooling — the physical infrastructure — around that hyperconverged piece.”

Of course, Schneider isn’t the first company in recent years to try to reposition itself as a software vendor. IBM, HPE, and Cisco, among others, have already started down this path to varying degrees of success. But as the data center ecosystem becomes smarter, and customers increasingly demand visibility into their environments and simplicity to deploy and manage them, Schneider seems to be in a good position to make a competitive play.

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