So, You Want to Get Into the Data Center Business?

Data Center

Today’s guest blogger is Mike Fox. He was one of the founders of CCG and we still work together on a number of projects. He is working today for Fox Management Advisors.

Cloud computing, business disaster recovery and continuity, off-site data storage, co-location, managed services, mirror site operations, data warehousing ….. what does it all mean, and, more importantly, how can you get some of this business?

On the surface, data centers are closely related to telco operations – high capital costs, spiky investment, technology driven, and (hopefully) good long-term investments.  Furthermore, telephone companies are natural partners (or owners) of data center operations due to the requirement for robust (and redundant) bandwidth connectivity (preferably fiber based).  Site security is also a critical factor; something telcos are well acquainted with and can naturally support.  However, given the fast-moving nature of both businesses (telecommunications and data centers), there are several key aspects that must be considered.

Location, Location, Location

As with real estate, one of the most critical factors when considering whether or not to invest in or build a data center is location.  In addition to other issues, location impacts costs (e.g., power costs – which are one of the primary cost elements), vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters, access to qualified technical personnel and your sales opportunities.  Some of the key location-based factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Cost and availability of real estate – is there sufficient open space for expansion
  • “Green” attributes – availability of green power and other low sulfur emission power sources
  • Cheap and abundant power from multiple sources
  • Climate – e.g., climate can affect HVAC cooling costs and design
  • Available education resources – colleges, universities and technical training
  • Access to redundant sources of broadband facilities – especially fiber optics
  • Local/State income tax rates – including any ‘incentives’ available for tech-based companies

Locating a data center near or in conjunction with a telephone company can be advantageous from the perspective of securing an anchor client (telcos house and store a lot of data), proximity to superior broadband connectivity, and access to technical expertise (e.g., it is not too far of a leap for telco IP technicians to be trained to be able to handle many of the technical needs of a data center).

Access to sufficiently trained technical personnel is very important.  While telco technicians have many of the same skill sets necessary to meet the needs of data center operations, it is likely that you will need more highly trained and certified employees than are necessary for traditional telco operations.  Therefore, locating close to colleges, universities and technical training centers, while not a requirement, can be a great advantage.  That said, I am personally aware of several data center operations that are several hundred miles from such educational facilities.  These operations were able to attract very qualified people due to their unique location – e.g., sometimes people would prefer to NOT live in the big city!

Not being located in the ‘big city’ is also positive from the perspective of site vulnerability.  Assuming you have sufficient broadband and power availability (again, redundant feeds, if possible), then locating in rural areas is very attractive for companies wishing to house their data in secure locations with very low risk profiles from both man-made (e.g., terrorism) and natural (e.g., hurricanes) disasters.  Coincidentally, most rural telcos are NOT in high risk areas; particularly with respect to terrorism and other man-made disasters.

The cost of power is also very location dependent.  In many rural states (e.g., Wyoming, where I reside), the cost of power is below the national average (often way below).  For example, the cost of power in Wyoming is consistently below $0.04 / Kwh (again, depending upon the exact location), which is less than half the national average of over $0.11 / Kwh.  Furthermore, availability of power is a location-based factor – is your location subject to issues such as rolling brownouts, which are common in some of our country’s more populated locations?

Know Your Business; Know Your Market

Like many technology-based businesses, the data center business is rapidly evolving.  What might have been a great business model a year ago, may have no legs today.  Rates, services, packages, bundles and even target customers are changing daily.  However, there is no doubt that in one form or another data storage, remote site availability, business disaster recovery and ‘cloud computing’ (the meaning of which is also evolving daily) will be viable products for years to come.  The key is to know where to start and how to focus effectively to meet your customers’ needs for many years to come.  It’s not necessarily ‘rocket science’ but it’s also not child’s play.  As such, we are prepared to assist with the evaluation of these and many other similar opportunities and, if it looks positive, help you launch or expand existing data center operations.

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