Global Power Partner Spotlight: Michael Hafner

644ad440-7883-4aca-a1ca-b2951e04c17b (1)Allow us to introduce Michael Hafner, a key member of the Kohler team who has been pivotal in advancing data center frontiers while ensuring exceptional client service across North America. We caught up with Michael in our latest installment of our Global Power Partners Spotlight series to talk about his career in data centers, the latest in backup power solutions, and the future of connectivity.

Hi Michael! To start things off, what is your role at Kohler?

My title is Engineering Solutions Manager, and I work specifically in the critical power and data center area. What that means is that I’m in charge of creating gensets that are engineered specifically for colocation and hyperscale facilities.

What does that look like on a day-to-day basis?

I work with end users to understand their specifications and turn that into a backup power solution. My day-to-day work is all about what a data center’s needs are, what some backup power capabilities are, and how to make those two come together. I frequently have conversations with data center operators where we talk about what their situation looks like, and why they may or may not need certain specifications. Ultimately we want to make sure that the end user is getting what they truly need for that specific project and that specific site, and delineating those specifications from the broad spectrum of what’s out there and available.

Sounds like an important part of the process! What kind of experiences have formed your knowledge base in the areas of data centers?

My whole career has been in the data center industry. In the early part of my career, I did fiber optics and communications. Later, I worked in custom cases and enclosures to protect different data center components. I’ve done lots of things, but everything I’ve done has been in the data center segment, whether that’s working with a data center contractor, end user, or designer.

I have the unique experience of being a manufacturer’s representative, so from a technical perspective, I’ve had a wide view of all kinds of data center products and systems, and the business environment that data centers exist in. I’ve touched everything inside and outside of a data center. I’ve found that data centers are extremely unique in the needs that they have, so I think my experience is very valuable in that regard.

In your view, what makes for a successful project when providing backup power solutions to data centers? 

It's important to realize that the situation at hand is never just an end user making a building that requires certain products. Instead, it’s more helpful to think of the situation as: an end user stating their want, a designer designing something to meet that want, a manufacturer making it, and a contractor installing it. It's critical to tie all of those together.

I often call it the four legs of the stool, because if you have three of those elements covered but not the fourth, you're gonna tip over. You must have all of those bases covered, making sure that each contributing organization has access to your product in the way that they need to do the job right. So for a designer, it's going to be more technical, whereas for an installer it’s going to be more directional, with training. You have to have all four legs of the stool.

What’s one way you see the data center industry changing, and what do you think it will look like in the future?

The next huge growth period for data centers will be with new technologies like machine learning, AI, and augmented reality. The industry will still be building data centers in the same way, but the way that a data center is used will start to be different. Machine learning or AI, for instance, doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to the internet all the time. So, if an AI data center goes down, it would be down and then when it comes back up it will continue again right where it left off. So we may not need to backup those types of facilities with as many generators as we normally would if it was a cloud-based data center. So that’s one of the big, relevant things I’m seeing with the growth of data centers.

How do you see Kohler being unique in the way they serve the industry? 

One big thing is that Kohler only does industrial generators. The base of that is the engine — you can’t do anything without an engine — and the Kohler engine is built for only industrial uses, only for backup power. Other companies might build engines for industrial generators, but they’ll also build semi trucks or earth moving equipment, and industrial generators aren’t their number one focus. So, while some other companies might have a large supply chain, a lot of that goes to other important needs they have. At Kohler, by comparison, our engines are built for only one purpose, and it’s that simple.

What’s something about Kohler engines that makes you excited for the future?

We’ve made lots of great technical advances on our engine, and the improvements to combustible diesel engines in general over the past 20 years has been great to see. At Kohler, we’ve been paying attention in the field, and watching what’s going on with fuel consumption, wet stacking, and issues with startups. We've been collecting those stats and we found that data center operators don't need to do as much maintenance. While it’s necessary to keep your generator running, maintenance is very expensive. Finding ways to cut out running your diesel engine for a certain amount of time saves fuel and time while imposing no risk to the engine. This process is detailed in our Conscious Care program, and we think it’s a great step for the industry to take.

To read more about wet stacking and generator maintenance, click here. Or, to meet more Kohler team members, check out our interview with Denisse De La Cruz here.

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