Data center operator DataBank is making sure all its ducks are in a row when it comes to the telecom market.
"We are building infrastructure that is going to support the new mobile edge," explained Raul Martynek, the company's CEO.
Indeed, telecom is now DataBank's primary business area following the company's recent acquisition of Zayo's 44 data centers. The transaction raises the number of large and midsize data centers in DataBank's portfolio to just above 60.
Importantly, the DataBank/Zayo deal stems from the fact that both companies now trace their ownership to Colony Capital, the massive, international digital infrastructure conglomerate being assembled by longtime investor Marc Ganzi that spans everything from fiber to cell towers to data centers to small cells.
But Zayo's data centers don't represent DataBank's telecom endpoint: The company just last month invested $30 million in EdgePresence, one of several startups that's working to construct mini data centers for edge computing nationwide.
Following DataBank's investment, EdgePresence now plans to build roughly a dozen mini data centers in locations owned by Vertical Bridge, a major US cell tower operator that's a sister company to DataBank and another digital infrastructure operator in Colony Capital's portfolio.
The end result of all this investment, explained DataBank's Martynek, is a company that now commands assets ranging from massive, $80 million data centers in tier-two markets like Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Baltimore, all the way down to mini data centers supplied by EdgePresence that cost less than $1 million and can sit at the base of Vertical Bridge's cell towers.
"Ultimately, what we believe is our combination of tier-one markets, tier-two markets, and then with modular [edge computing capability] and the ability to extend to tier-three, tier-four [markets] – or highly geographically specific locations in tier-two or tier-one markets – that fabric is where we're different," Martynek said, acknowledging that data center operator Switch recently embarked on a similar effort via its new agreement with FedEx and Dell Technologies.
Martynek explained that DataBank is making sure that it's ready to provide what its customers need, whether that's a small data center in a specific geographic location in a major metropolitan city or a larger data center in a much smaller city. And he expects DataBank's telecom customers to begin demanding that kind of flexibility as they begin to deploy things like ultra low-latency services and network slicing.
"From our perspective, you need to have a very different architecture and collection of assets from a co-location perspective to enable that," Martynek said of 5G technologies. "That's what we try to do with our customers, is help them realize that vision by filling in the gaps around what those assets need to be, so that they can actually stand up a network like that. Those discussions are different with every customer because every customer is on a slightly different journey to where they want to get to. There is no one size fits all here."
As 2021 looms, what's next for DataBank? Martynek said the company expects to build an additional half-dozen "traditional" data centers, the kind that cost $80 million and support 10 megawatts of capacity. But he also said the company expects to build at least a dozen mini data centers, costing around $1 million each, via EdgePresence, over the next 12 months.
"With the conversations that we're having, we could be orders of magnitude greater than that," Martynek said of those mini, "modular" data centers for edge computing.
Martynek said that the data center market in general is moving relatively slowly when it comes to the overall edge computing opportunity. He said DataBank specifically is working to meet its customers' demands without exceeding them – he pointed to the lessons of the dot-com crash in the late 1990s, where investor expectations dramatically overstepped reality.
But Martynek sees an edge computing boom on the horizon. "I truly believe it's going to happen within the next three years," he said.
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