Data Center Powerhouse ScaleMatrix has a Message for the AEC Industry: Bring it On.
By Richard Massey
Foreseeing the time when AEC firms will face data management issues caused by the mainstream implementation of AI and machine learning, California-based ScaleMatrix says it will be ready.
Mark Ortenzi and Chris Orlando, the high-performing masterminds and co-founders of ScaleMatrix, have invented a hybrid air/liquid cooled cabinet built to house virtually any hardware needed for an organization’s computing needs. With built-in logic, the cabinets are efficient, high-density, closed-loop, and fully modular. And compared to the installation of a traditional data center, ScaleMatrix can reduce deployment time by as much as 75 percent, a deployment that is measured in days, not months or even years. If this cabinet is the meteorite, the old data center systems are the dinosaurs.
The ScaleMatrix cabinet has the ability to scale from 1kW to 52kW of workload, and it can handle anything an AEC firm can produce, especially as the industry has yet to employ AI and other cognitive technologies on a meaningful scale. However, with AI technology expected to boom in the coming years, that will probably change as engineering firms follow the lead of more progressive segments of the economy.
In a nutshell, data growth leads to compute and density increases – more processors – which leads to more power outputs, and thus increased heat, which leads to heightened cooling requirements. In the old days, the raised floor, the wind tunnel, and the chilled room were sufficient. Ortenzi and Orlando know all about it, because it was in the data center industry where they cut their teeth and made their names. But even as they flourished in that industry, they also saw the need for disruption.
With important partnerships with leading companies like Hewlett Packard Enterprise and NVIDIA – ScaleMatrix is a select partner in NVIDIA’s DGX-ready data center program – and now with data centers in San Diego, Seattle, Houston, Charlotte, and Jacksonville, ScaleMatrix upped the ante with the recent acquisition of Instant Data Centers, a deal that adds ruggedized, micro-data centers that can function on the edge – near the action and in remote locations, like a mine.
Even though the technology behind what ScaleMatrix does is perhaps dizzying, the philosophy is quite simple.
“Everything we do in this business is power and cooling,” Ortenzi said. “Next to labor, power is the biggest expense. It takes so many amps to cool so many amps. It takes so many watts to cool so many watts.”
The cabinets have built-in logic that responds to usage requirements, making the variable system “one big, breathing animal that modulates based on requirements,” Ortenzi said. The ScaleMatrix design includes full cooling support, redundant power supply, fire suppression, and integrated network support. When one cabinet gets filled up, just add another one. While ScaleMatrix at first offered cloud and colocation services, it has since added another distinct business line, the DDC™ cabinet for companies that want them for their own data centers.
While the reaction from the market has certainly been favorable – ScaleMatrix had 2018 combined sales of about $20 million and employs 52 people – it wasn’t necessarily instant and overwhelming.
“That’s a great novelty, but who needs that?” Ortenzi said, referring to the initial reaction he and Orlando got when they introduced a system that could handle such a heavy workload.
But all that changed about two years ago, when AI and machine learning came in from the fringe and entered the mainstream. Seemingly overnight, companies were dealing with more data than ever, and ScaleMatrix started fielding calls from all across the country, and even the world.
“All of a sudden, two years ago, all hell breaks loose and no one knew what to do,” Ortenzi said. “We’ve set ourselves up to be in a position to help people. Where else are they going to go?”
A recent M&A deal in the AEC industry, and leading research, says that the ScaleMatrix hunch is probably correct – engineering firms are going to embrace big data and the means to manage it, for themselves and for their clients.
Harley Ellis Devereaux, a 400-plus person engineering firm with offices in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento, just merged with Integrated Design Group, an architecture, engineering, and planning firm with an established reputation in the field of data center design. In the media surrounding the merger, HED leadership recognized the emerging importance of data center design and its relationship to mission-critical sectors like healthcare and higher education.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced that M.C. Dean, an electrical design-build and systems integration firm for mission-critical organizations, will invest $25.1 million to incorporate a new product line at its fabrication and distribution facility in Caroline County. The expansion, which opens this summer, will double the company’s manufacturing capacity to support high-growth, mission-critical customers such as airports, healthcare facilities, and data centers.
In 2017, McKinsey & Company, in its report, “The New Age of Engineering and Construction Technology,” announced that the engineering and construction industry “is at the cusp of a new era, with technology start-ups creating new applications and tools that are changing how companies design, plan, and execute projects.”
The report cited applications of cutting-edge technologies across the full gamut of the AEC cycle, from design to preconstruction, and from construction to operations and management. In a subsequent report, however, McKinsey & Company concluded that “adoption of AI solutions is quite low in E&C [Engineering & Construction], particularly compared with other industries.”
Last year, in “State of AI in the Enterprise, 2nd Edition,” Deloitte reported that the global market in cognitive technologies has already passed the $19 billion mark. Cybersecurity, according to the Deloitte study, remains a prime concern, as does the skills gap, among those employing cognitive systems. The study was based on the results of a survey of 1,100 IT and line-of-business executives from US-based companies in Q3 2018.
Deloitte’s conclusion, while general to all industries, could apply to any AEC firm that branches out into AI and machine learning.
“Our survey results clearly show that growing numbers of companies are becoming more sophisticated in their usage of AI technologies. Now is the time for organizations to start selecting the business-use cases that can deliver measurable value through AI-powered capabilities.”
The partnership between Ortenzi and Orlando has stood the test of time, 18 years to be exact. Their tactic is fairly simple – divide and conquer. Ortenzi mans the “back of the house” with research and development, design and engineering, while Orlando works the “front of the house” with business development, sales, and marketing. Together, the two of them log about one million air miles per year. The hectic schedule means they don’t see each other too often.
“It’s been an interesting road,” Ortenzi jokingly said. “Whenever we’re together it’s either really good or really bad.”
Ortenzi dates his tech career back to the early 1980s – MS-DOS, 8088 processors, and the dawn of the “network or networks,” now known as the Internet. With a laugh, he guesses that he has built upwards of 4,000 servers in his day. A self-taught computer technician, Ortenzi has a degree in business administration from the University of Colorado.
Like Ortenzi, Orlando also traces his tech roots back to the early years, when he was just 18. He started out testing RFID in clothing, meatpacking, shoes, and other products. From RFID he came up through the data center scene in Southern California, crossing paths with Ortenzi in 2004. Orlando has a degree in international business from San Diego State University.
Orlando is always looking ahead to the next big thing. But he also understands the value of what happened in the past, specifically as it relates to his partnership with Ortenzi.
“We’ve been blessed,” he said. “We’ve had about two or three cross words [in the last 18 years].”
The results of the partnership speak for themselves.
“We now have one of the most complete and capable cabinet platforms in the world,” Orlando said. “We are able to serve a customer wherever their demands are.”
Richard Massey is managing editor of Zweig Group publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This article was originally published in Civil + Structural Engineer in May 2019