Nautilus: transforming the data center industry

James Connaughton, Nautilus CEO, discusses how his firm is revolutionizing the data center industry

Nautilus Data Technologies is a global pioneer in water-cooled data centers and is leading a global transformation to ultra-efficient, high-performance and environmentally sustainable operations in the data center sector.

James Connaughton is the CEO at Nautilus. Having joined the organisation in March 2016, he has overseen the implementation of the world’s first water-cooled and water-borne data center with Nautilus. “There are two essential features,” explains Connaughton. “The first and most important feature is cooling with naturally cold water, which is how all other major infrastructure sectors address the large amounts of heat generated by their systems. These include, for example, thermal power plants, ships, industrial processing facilities, and paper mills. Only data centers, generate heat at a similar industrial scale, still use massive and unsustainable air-cooling systems. The second feature is mobility--the ability to prefabricate the data center in large modules, and either assemble them onto a barge and deliver it fully ready to go, or transport the modules to a prepared site for rapid assembly. Placing essential infrastructure on barges—such as energy barges and water treatment barges--is a well-established model for enabling rapid and flexible access to such infrastructure in fast growing and emerging markets. The opportunity and need is equally strong today when it comes to providing access to digital infrastructure to those who currently lack it.”

Connaughton believes data centers are the newest and most important component of critical infrastructure that sustains and enriches the lives of people around the world. “Data centers now stand alongside power generation, drinking-water plants, waste-water plants, roads and other critical infrastructure that allows society to function and create good outcomes for people,” he explains. “Access to the water molecule and the electron has long been vitally important. Worldwide access to the photon for data delivery is the next essential piece.” Over the past two years, Connaughton has overseen the development of the company’s first full-scale commercial facility, which provides six megawatts of water-cooled data center capacity on a barge. He strives for an innovative approach across all his operations. “We’ve been on the arc of creative invention and cleverly practical engineering to make that a reality,” says Connaughton. “The first part of our company’s life has focused on building a functional prototype, and then using that experience to make the thousands of decisions of what not to do against the several hundred decisions of what to do in bringing a full scale facility into being. We’re really excited to be commissioning that data center in California in just a few weeks time.”

Nautilus is planning to develop facilities in North America, Europe and Asia, and has been contacted by potential partners to pursue projects in the Middle East, Africa, and South America. “Once our data center in North Carolina is up and running, we look forward to onboarding a great set of anchor customers,” says Connaughton. “We will show the world the ultra-efficiency, high-performance, and the strong sustainability of our approach. After that, we are ready to rapidly move into other locations to “productize” the technology and we look forward to partnering through joint ventures and technology licensing so that we can get this important technology out into the world as quickly as possible.”

Connaughton explains that a key part of his organisation’s development has been to develop the supply chain partnerships with companies such as Usystems, Schneider, Vertiv, and George Fischer, among others. “Our objective is to work with partners that can help us make this technology available globally,” he says. “These partnerships are important because, as customers, communities, and digital infrastructure providers become excited about taking advantage of our technology, we don’t want to lose ground in being able to deliver it. In order to support an innovation company like ours, partners must field tiger teams that know how to interact with startups and other smaller technology innovators like us. And these teams need to have the creativity and agility to adapt as the innovation advances. We’ve come a long way in just three years, and there is a lot more to come. Our partners need to keep pace with us.”

With the future in mind, Connaughton believes that the data center industry is moving rapidly to where the users are in order to provide the more powerful computing and faster connections necessary for smart-city, smart-transportation, smart grid, tele-medicine and other highly valuable digital applications and services. “This means high-performance data centers in the centre of every population center,” he says. “We’ve seen this dynamic before with the buildout of other forms of public and private infrastructure—such as electricity and gas delivery, public water systems, telecommunications, highways, railroads, airports, ports, and even overnight package delivery. To these we will now add warehouses of computers, countless miles of fiber optics, and an endless array of wireless devices linking everyone to everything digital. We need to make sure that the environmental footprint of the data centers at the heart of all of this well serves both society and the planet. It’s very exciting.”

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Data centers are the newest and most essential piece of critical infrastructure for the world.

James Connaughton | CEO, Nautilus


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