Rob Johnson, Vertiv CEO and Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi join the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss Vertiv’s critical digital infrastructure solutions outlook as COVID-19 pushes the world deeper into an online reality
ZACK GUZMAN: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance and this week we have been spotlighting infrastructure projects and spending in our "Rebuilding America" segments and it's fitting to kind of wrap up with what's often overlooked in the infrastructure discussion, particularly around digital infrastructure. Happy to break that down with our next guest here, the CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based company and $4.4 billion provider of digital infrastructure which went public last year. We're joined here by the CEO of Vertiv, Rob Johnson, alongside Yahoo Finance's Brian Sozzi.
And Rob, Thanks for coming on here. I mean, it is an important piece, increasingly, of infrastructure-- digital infrastructure as we're seeing this build out. But as we're talking about the Biden administration and what they have planned, what are your expectations in kind of where this sector goes and how important it's going to be to really spotlight if we're thinking about investing in infrastructure.
ROB JOHNSON: Absolutely, Zack. And thanks for having me today. We're really excited about the investment in infrastructure. People don't really understand what companies like Vertiv do, but we provide the foundation of the internet. We provide the power, the cooling, the thermal management. So for example, down in Texas where they've been hit really hard with power outages, we have to keep those data centers up and running so people can continue to communicate, people continue to do telemedicine. So we are really a vital part of the overall infrastructure.
As you know, there's a big data center boom. Lots of hyperscale companies and co-location companies. We support them with power and cooling and modular solutions. So we look forward to the Biden administration building out more broadband. It's digital everything that's happening these days and that requires processing of that data and then storage of that data. And you hear a lot more about Edge Data Centers and we play a big part of allowing that to happen.
BRIAN SOZZI: Rob, you mentioned the situation in Texas. Really, it's been a tough-- tough couple of days for people there. How do you imagine that situation will change how Texas thinks about their infrastructure? And what would that mean to your business?
ROB JOHNSON: Yeah, well absolutely. We've got a lot of people on the ground right now down there-- service techs and so forth-- keeping whether it's the communication networks up and running or the data centers. And, you know, I think there was a bunch of things that happened, you know, in Texas. The failures of whether the windmills and then the gas pipelines and a combination of things. And one of the things that this country's got to look at is energy storage, right? Energy storage is going to play a big part of our future as we integrate more renewables. It's going to be necessary. And it's a reliable part of the infrastructure going forward. So I think Texas will probably look at energy storage as another form of backup for these types of natural disasters.
AKIKO FUJITA: Rob, I want to get back to the growth that you have seen it in data centers. And I wonder how you are looking at the carbon footprint element in all of this. We've talked so much about the migration into the cloud. It's great that everything's moving to the cloud, and yet there's a lot of power that has to be generated to cool down these servers. Is the technology for energy efficiency keeping up with the type of demand we're seeing for data centers right now?
ROB JOHNSON: Absolutely. Well, data centers today consume about 2% or 3% of the world's electricity and they're only consuming more. Things that we're doing at Vertiv is absolutely addressing some of those energy hogs, if you will, in the data centers. And the big one you talked about is thermal management. And we've made a lot of strides in that and in driving efficiency and making those more effective. But there's a lot more innovation. And one of the things we're doing as a company, we publicly announced we're doubling our R&D over the next few years to just solve those types of problems.
But there's things like generators, right, that-- diesel generators-- that we need to find alternative ways, whether it's fuel cells or battery energy storage or solar, in order to take care of that. But a lot of work's being done to make data centers more efficient. But the boom of data centers continues. Every country and every world wants their data within the country. And it needs to be local.
The issue with data is the latency side of things. Which means, you know, when you get on your phone and that little dial spins. That means that you're going too far in the cloud somewhere and we need a data center closer to you. So as they proliferate, we have a responsibility to make sure we make these most efficient and effective as we go forward. And there's things like battery and energy storage and integrating with renewables and fuel cells that I think can help drive the overall carbon footprint or reduce that.
BRIAN SOZZI: And Rob, outside of infrastructure I think a lot of folks would be surprised regarding your company-- Vertiv kicked off the SPAC boom. You brought the company public. One of the first ones to do it using a SPACE with the help of Goldman Sachs and Honeywell's former longtime CEO David Cote. Are you surprised by how much that industry or that path to public markets has taken off since?
ROB JOHNSON: Absolutely. And not too surprised, but we knew we were going to be the largest SPAC and the first SPACE that Goldman had done. And the combination of Goldman, myself, and Dave Cote, really as we went out and raised money, raised the pipe for the SPAC, a lot of people were doubtful in SPACs because they had been burnt on them in the past. But here we are a quality company. A great company in a great position in a great industry making money. So what I'd say is, I think as we look at SPACs going forward, I'm not surprised. It's a great vehicle for companies to get out there. Just need to make sure that we've got the appropriate leadership and we're investing and have sensible valuations on some of those companies as we go forward.
AKIKO FUJITA: Vertiv CEO Rob Johnson. It's good to talk to you today. And our thanks to Yahoo Finance's Brian Sozzi as well for joining in on the conversation.