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IWD’24: ‘Do not let anybody say that this job is not for you’ [An Interview with Marie Chabanon]

In honor of International Women’s Day 2024, JSA Europe is proud to spotlight Marie Chabanon, Deputy Chair of the Technical Committee for the European Data Center Association (EUDCA) and Chief Technical Officer at European hyperscale data centre operator DATA4 Group, as a trailblazing leader in the data center sector. 

In this interview with JSA Media Consultant João Marques Lima, Chabanon shares her insights, experiences, and advocacy for women’s leadership in technical professions.

With over 14 years of expertise in the data center sector, Chabanon reflects on the transformative changes witnessed in the industry, emphasizing the revolutionary period ahead for data centers in Europe. She addresses the impact of AI development, energy sustainability, and regulatory complexities, offering a compelling vision of the sector’s future.

As a woman in a technical leadership role, Chabanon champions the development of women’s leadership through exemplary strategies and initiatives. Her focus on leading by example, networking and community building, and advocacy and awareness campaigns underscores the importance of fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Chabanon’s advice to aspiring women leaders in the data center and technical sectors is empowering and resonant, encouraging them to pursue their ambitions, overcome barriers, and build a supportive network for personal and professional growth.

JML: With over 14 years of experience in the data center sector, could you share some of the most significant changes or advancements you’ve witnessed in the industry during your career, and how they have influenced your role as the CTO at Data4 Group?

MD: I would say that in the last 14 years, I have experienced four main periods working in South Europe: 

2009 – 2016: Slow development of the digital economy with the first tendency of corporate companies to outsource their IT hosting to colocation companies like Data4. The focus at that stage was to increase energy efficiency and there were no major design changes. Subjects such as physical security started to become a very high focus, in addition to business continuity and resilience.

2016 – 2023 : Arrival of the Hyperscalers (GAFAM) in the Southern European market: It was the beginning of a strong acceleration of the colocation market with higher volumes of MW to build, with short time to market, higher technical, and Health & Safety standards. The way to design, build and operate begun to change drastically pushed by the requirements of the hyperscalers.

Since 2016, the growth began to be exponential in core markets (FLAP) but also new markets: Italy, Spain, Poland… all with very strong growth. All these markets were not fully prepared to follow this important growth, and new markets standards. Energy Efficiency stayed the main focus with the capacity to deliver in due time. Design did not really evolve to a notable extent.

2020 – 2023: Continuity of strong growth across the entire Southern European Market pushed by Health & Safety standards and the acceleration of digitalization in new markets. Demand began to be higher than supply capacity. Still no major changes in design, but we began to talk about sustainability, and not only energy efficiency. Life cycle analysis and carbon emissions begun to be key parameters for the design, build and operations of data centers also pushed by nascent regulations in some countries throughout Europe. We began to hear more and more about the demand for AI…

2023 was a year of change with the strong development of AI, resulting with a lot of questions around its consequences for data center design and the sector: Especially around grid capacity to support demand, as well as the energy and sustainability impact, capacity of the markets, and supply chains to meet this new demand. In addition, there was a drastically increase in the complexity of regulatory pressure for data centers.

I really feel that after 14 years of continuous evolutions we are entering into a revolutionary period for the data center sector in Europe.

JML: As a woman in a technical leadership role, how do you advocate for the development of women’s leadership in the technical professions, and what initiatives or programs have you been involved in to support this cause?

MC: Advocating for the development of women’s leadership in technical professions is crucial for creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. As a woman in a technical leadership role, there are several strategies and initiatives I have undertaken to support this cause:

  • Lead by Example: Demonstrating strong leadership skills and technical expertise sets a positive example for other women in the field. By excelling in my role, I am trying to inspire and motivate other women to pursue leadership positions in technical fields.
  • Networking and Community Building: Engaging with women’s networks and communities in the technical industry can provide opportunities for collaboration, support, and advocacy. By actively participating in events, conferences, and online forums, I can connect with other women in the field and work together to promote women’s leadership. I signed the Women’s Forum’s “Women4Climate” climate commitment charter on behalf of Data4, which promotes women to positions of responsibility with a focus on projects dedicated to improving environmental impact. I also participated in the G20 Women’s forum held in Milano in 2021, and the Paris Women’s forum in 2022.
  • Advocacy and Awareness Campaigns: Participating in advocacy and awareness campaigns can help raise visibility and promote gender diversity in technical professions. By speaking out against gender bias and discrimination, I try to help create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women in the industry. I aim as much as I can to participate in CTO round tables at different data center events to reinforce the message. Also, to lead specific communication campaigns that include press interviews and social media engagement to set a positive example.

Overall, advocating for the development of women’s leadership in technical professions requires a combination of individual effort, community engagement, and organizational support. By actively participating in initiatives and programs that promote gender diversity and inclusion.

JML: What advice would you give to other women aspiring to pursue leadership roles in the data center and technical sectors, based on your own experiences and journey?

MC: I’ve got a few:

  • Do not let anybody say that this job is not for you!
  • Do not put-up barriers: When you have an ambition, you must try and see it through to the end, not stop at the first or second hurdle, and give yourself the means to achieve your ambitions.
  • Be curious: Before 2009 I did not even know that data centers existed, but I was curious about the sector, and the job I was offered.
  • Never mind what people will think about you. If you want something, ask and fight for it. Especially as a woman in this sector.
  • Build your personal Board of Directors with people in your professional and personal environment that can help you along your journey.

JML: Given your role in orchestrating the design and construction of data centers across Europe, how does Data4 Group prioritize sustainability and environmental considerations in its data center infrastructure projects?

MC: As our President Olivier MICHELI said: “In a world where digital technology – of which data centers are one of the pillars – is becoming increasingly predominant, Data4 has a crucial role to play as an exemplary stakeholder firmly committed to Sustainable Development”

Our Data4Good programme dedicated to Sustainable Development is one of Data4’s three strategic priorities, along with Quality to continuously meet our customers’ expectations and Adaptability to help our customers grow.

This ambitious, ongoing programme is implemented throughout all of the company’s entities in Europe. It incorporates ISO 26000 principles and rests on four foundations with clearly defined objectives:

  • ENVIRONMENT reduce our environmental footprint using a circular economy model;
  • SOCIAL make DATA4 a great place to work;
  • INNOVATION identify and study innovative, sustainable technical solutions with our partners;
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT be responsible, committed participants in our ecosystem.

This programme involves all employees, service providers and customers, as well as stakeholders in our ecosystem such as municipalities and universities – and follows all current regulations. It is also part of our continuous improvement process and our ongoing search for innovative solutions.

Data4 also supports the United Nations Global Compact 1 and participates in other initiatives such as:

  • CLIMATE NEUTRAL DATA CENTER PACT and PLANETTECH’CARE to reduce the environmental footprint of digital technology;
  • WOMEN’S FORUM to increase the presence of women and gender equality in businesses.

JML: As a board member of the European Data Centre Association and the Technical Deputy of the Association’s Technical Committee, what are your primary objectives and focus areas on these roles, and how do they align with your vision for the future of the data center industry in Europe?

MC: I am very honored to have joined the board and to support the development of the data center sector in Europe. The EUDCA has already done a lot of work in the past year, especially through the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact (CDNCP) initiative. As stated above, the market is experiencing a very enthusiastic but also quite vertiginous period where we really need to envisage the next generation of data centers that will support the exponential development of AI while reducing environmental impact as much as we can.

In 2024, EUDCA’s Technical Committee will focus on the following subjects to support the main challenges we foresee in the sector in the forthcoming years:

  • Impact of AI and data and other emerging technologies on data center design.
  • Circular energy.
  • Circular systems, including circular economy and design.
  • Electricity flexibility: Focusing on the impact of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), energy and guidance, and how to manage the changes introduced by legislation.
  • Energy and resource efficiency (e.g. access to renewable energy markets, storage, power generation, etc.)
  • Carbon emissions scope (e.g. life cycle assessments methdologies, scope 3 calculations).

In addition, together with Géraldine Camarra as the first women on the board, I hope I will bring another perspective to this team, another way of working which will help the global association to be more efficient in influencing and driving the strategy of the sector in Europe.

JML: How do you see the European Data Centre Association contributing to the advancement of sustainable and innovative practices within the data center industry, and what role do you play in shaping these contributions?

MC:4% of the world carbon emissions are due to the digital sector, and within this 16% is linked to the data center sector. These figures will more than double by the end of the decade. We are conscious that the EUDCA has a social responsibility to address this challenge and support the sector in reducing our global carbon footprint.

EUDCA contributed a first, very strong milestone supporting the creation of the CNDCP initiative, where over 100 data center operators and trade associations are committed to the European Green Deal to achieve the ambitious greenhouse gas reductions of the climate law – leveraging technology and digitalization to achieve the goal of making Europe climate neutral by 2050.

We are continuing and reinforcing our efforts to address these challenges and proposed solutions, as described in question 5.

JML: As a signatory of the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society’s Charter for the fight against climate change, what specific actions or initiatives do you believe are crucial for the data center industry to combat climate change and promote sustainable operations?

MC: Since 2020, I am the Sponsor of Data4Good Program, Data4’s sustainable program, where leading my team, we have accomplished two main achievements in sustainability:

  • Since 2017, thanks to innovation and design value engineering, data center design has improved by 20% in terms of energy efficiency.
  • Since 2020, I launched a very ambitious program of low carbon concrete solutions with Data4 prefabricated company Generale Prefabricatti to support the reduction of Data4’s carbon footprint. After 2 years of R&D, our 1st results were successful in helping to reduce scope 3 emissions by 10%. The next step in progress is to achieve – 23% by 2027 and -38% MW IT reduction by 2030.

I have continued my strong dedication to improving “Sustainability by Design” by implementing BREAM Certifications for each data center in the Data4 Platform. Since 1990, BREEAM’s third-party certified standards have helped improve asset performance at every stage, from design through construction, to use and refurbishment.

JML: What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

MC:I have always worked in business under “tension” with a lot of things to manage at the same time (too much in reality). In such cases, where there is so much to do, I am frequently using this valuable advice:

“Choose your fight”: Let go of subjects that aren’t worthwhile and concentrate on those that have a real impact on you. This is even more valuable advice for women in the professional world, and in general, as we have many fights to address.

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JSA is celebrating Women’s History Month throughout March 2024. Find inspirational interviews on our LinkedIn Page

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