Industry Spotlight: DC BLOX CEO Jeff Uphues

May 29th, 2019 by · Leave a Comment

The data center marketplace is a very dynamic one in which the business model works well at both large and small scale. This means there are many regional players. One such regional data center owner and operator is DC BLOX, which is opening a new Birmingham data center facility this month. With us today to talk about DC BLOX and its plans for the data center markets of the Southeastern United States is CEO Jeff Uphues.

TR: What are the origins of DC BLOX?

JU: DC BLOX is an Atlanta-based data center owner and operator serving the Southeast United States. The company was started in 2014 and received its initial funding in 2016. Over the course of 2017, 2018, and now 2019, we have built three data center facilities in addition to a leased facility we operate in Atlanta, and interconnected all of them with high speed, high capacity networks. A lot of our team came from Cbeyond, a service provider that knew how to scale new markets quickly. We also have leadership from Digital Realty and from QTS.

TR: What does your infrastructure look like today?

JU: We build data centers to be market-size, but with all the capabilities of hyperscale-size capacity. Our Huntsville facility is on 5 acres of land and has about 9,000 square feet of space, expandable to 52,000 square feet and as much as 13.5MW of power. Our Chattanooga facility is on a smaller property that can handle up to 3MW. We are just this month opening our new data center in Birmingham, Alabama on 27 acres of land. Initially, it’s a 31,000 square-foot facility with two data center halls, each of which can handle roughly 240 cabinets. At full buildout it can scale up to 200,000 square feet and 60-70MW of power.

Our Atlanta facility is our corporate disaster recovery and backup facility as well as a major hub for our network. We have about 450 miles of dark fiber that we’ve deployed or leased that link all our data centers together with super low latency of less than 5ms on no less than 100Gbps transport. Between Chattanooga and Atlanta, we have completely diverse paths, 1.7ms one way and 1.8ms the other. Essentially, we’ve moved the internet exchange at 56 Marietta into these markets.

TR: Do you have expansion plans beyond Birmingham? What markets do you find attractive?

JU: We like to think we’re going to conquer all of Dixie. We’ve got plans to build up to 15 new markets throughout the southeastern states. We are also being asked by some large customers to consider building in other markets, although we have not yet committed. We take a lot of time to analyze and understand which markets we feel we can be successful in. We have our target list on our website, because we’re not shy about the markets in which we see great opportunity.

When we expand, we think about building it out from the center of a target. The first ring that we created routes between Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, Huntsville, Birmingham, and then back into Atlanta. The approach going forward is to create a little bit bigger circle and then incorporate those markets, and then a little bit bigger circle, and so on. If we go east, it could be Greenville, Augusta, or Charleston. To the north we might tie in Louisville. To the west we could tie in Memphis or Jackson, and to the south maybe Tampa or Orlando. But there’s a cadence that we have to go into new markets that is based upon customer demand, the right property, and high availability to network and power.

TR: What draws you to the Southeast?

JU: We understand the Southeast very, very well. If you look at the markets of the Southeastern United States, the population is growing. A lot of people are moving here from the North, whether it’s for better jobs, lower cost-of-living, or weather or some combination. We see a continued demand from what are currently underserved colocation markets. There’s a lot of demand in the hyperscale markets like Ashburn, Virginia, but there’s also a lot of competition. When we look at our markets, we see very little competition for the type of quality of product that we put on the ground. Many of the facilities already there when we go into a market have been built by companies that either lease the building or built it 10-15 years ago, at a time when the power infrastructure, efficiency levels, and flexibility were not the same as today.

TR: Do you prefer to build from the ground up or redevelop existing locations?

JU: We prefer to build everything from greenfield. We built our Huntsville location from the first shovel of dirt to completion in 22 weeks. The new Birmingham facility will end up coming in right around 25 weeks. Whereas Huntsville looks a little different on the exterior than Birmingham or Chattanooga, the interior is essentially the same building block approach to scaling a data center with the same design, the same support system, the same reliability, and the same cost. If you can put that level of quality of facility on the ground in these highly underserved, yet growing markets, you can build the same design over and over again.

TR: What kinds of customers do you focus on to drive demand in these markets?

JU: I think it’s a bit of everything. We focus on being a partner for managed service providers that have never had a facility like this in the past. We focus on enterprises that either have their own facility that they are transitioning out of or had previously co-located and utilized platforms in the major markets where they always have to drive to access their equipment. We’re finding enterprises, managed service providers, life sciences, research institutions and universities; all of these types of clients really value having our solutions and support right there in the market. And as a result, city and local state governments are finding that having the services we provide in close proximity is a way to attract more businesses and organizations into the community. Content companies are also choosing to pull things out into our markets rather than just having them stuck in markets like Atlanta or Nashville or Charlotte. And finally, we are also becoming a really strong resource for carriers, though we haven’t yet seen any of the 5G deployments moving into the market because 5G hasn’t really been announced there. That said, we know we will soon, and we’re a great location for remote radio heads and wireline to wireless infrastructure.

We have a very methodical, planned approach to entering the underserved yet growing markets that we serve. When you build a market, you have to have a long-term view, and we have a 10-year horizon on these markets. We use a Lego style approach to modular design that allows us to scale them, and we right-size them for the amount of power that we initially use. We have a deep understanding of what enterprises are in that market and what the IP demand is coming in and out of the market. Any company that either wants to have a deployment in that market or that is local in that market but hasn’t had a facility like what we deploy is a potential customer.

TR: How do you differentiate yourself from other data center providers with those customers?

JU: Latency matters. Proximity matters. A company that understands that is not just a real-estate focused company. We’re a service company that was birthed out of the network and storage business, not just a REIT that pops down a building and hopes people show up. We really pride ourselves on the services we deliver. That’s why MARTA, the mass transit system in Atlanta, uses us for their disaster recovery. Our facilities are close enough for them to support their infrastructure with their same staff, but are outside the impact zone of the major market they’re in, yet our proximity makes them feel like they’re in Atlanta. We also serve Mohawk Industries, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer and a host of others. You can also imagine the type of customers that we have in a market like Huntsville, Alabama, home to NASA deployments and Red Stone Arsenal. There are many government and federal agencies and their contractors that are there working on some of the most advanced technologies available.

TR: What’s the biggest challenge ahead on the path DC BLOX is following right now?

JU: I think that our biggest challenge is probably our own patience. We like to move pretty quickly and are proud of our ability to act swiftly within our markets. But we have to truly understand that market before we go into it. A lot of capital is being deployed into the data center space today, and we want to be very prudent with the capital we steward. We need to pick markets when they’re ready.  If we start one about every four months, then over the course of the next three years we will add nine facilities to the four we have.  We think that would be a great footprint.

TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!

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Categories: Datacenter · Industry Spotlight

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