The below article details our conversation and specifically, the evolution of not only the data center services industry, but of the journalism that reports on it.
Who is Rich Miller?
Rich started out as a sports writer in New Jersey, worked several beats before ending up at The Trenton Times. He eventually became an investigative journalist covering computing, and serving as their newsroom technology director. As a side gig, he and his wife began building websites, seeing them as a new frontier for journalism.
In 2000, he got turned on to the data center scene by one of his wife's clients. He took a walk through a carrier hotel and was amazed by the infrastructure and the scope of the entire facility. He dove into the scene with both feet, starting a site called carrierhotels.net and working his way up from there. For the past 20 years he's been writing about the data center services scene, covering every evolution and industry trend along the way.
In 2005 he started Data Center Knowledge, an online center for industry information. He's written thousands of articles on the industry, documenting its amazing growth. Rich was not only the founder, but the editor in chief for around ten years.
Then he started a second chapter in his data center journalism career. Data Center Knowledge was sold in 2012, and after a couple of years helping with the transition, he was burned out. He thought that he was going to transition into writing about something else. But as it turned out, he had the urge to take some deep dives, covering topics in more depth than ever before. Data Center Frontier was founded to help readers track how the industry will move into the future.
Rich says that a good journalist is a storyteller at heart, and sharing those stories is paramount. Explanatory journalism was his goal over the years; taking the complex subjects and helping people to understand them. It can be a real challenge though, trying to absorb brand new technology and create the right language to explain it… sometimes within 24 hours of learning it yourself!
The Hyperscale and Enterprise Booms
The hyperscale sector was just starting to take on a life of its own when Data Center Frontier was founded. Rich says one of their first pieces was 'The Rise of the Cloud Data Center’. The two key components to that story were 'scale' and 'edge'.
Hyperscale players have been transformative, particularly because they allowed investors to understand data centers in a brand new way. Traditional real estate investors used to have a hard time getting into the old business model. But these days, hyperscale often presents single owner facilities with well respected tenants, all of whom have great credit histories and lots of assets. It is a much easier-to-understand proposal. The big investors bring not only the ability to take advantage of economies of scale, but they provide a kind of industrialization to the industry.
Rich says that what happened in 2020 paralleled the kind of events that happened in the 2009 financial crisis. Cash became king. Enterprises became more careful with their spending, and large organizations had to make touch investment choices.
2020 was a 'wait and see' time for them, and a lot of projects got put on hold. But in 2021, the faucet was turned back on. With more certainty into the future of tech, enterprise projects started to move forward again. The data centers that relied on enterprise business started to boom.
How the Data Center Services Market Has Changed
Rich says that one of the most interesting things about the industry is that when he’s talking to less technical people, he no longer needs to describe what a data center is. People have an understanding of how they're connected to the Internet, and how data centers can impact their lives. During the pandemic, the entire world relied on data centers in a new way: Zoom, online learning, remote healthcare, and immense E-commerce. Public officials in communities and smaller localities suddenly understood the importance and value of these places.
Carrier hotels were the centers of the old data center world. They were located next to the old Ma Bell facilities. But they tended to be in major population centers. Power and space were expensive. Thus, the shift into the suburbs in later years.
More recently, carrier hotels are back in vogue. In fact, some investment companies just buy up carrier hotels, upgrade them, and remarket them. A lot more capital has been flowing into that space recently.
Rich noted that all these companies have sophisticated plans for just about every eventuality, as far as disaster recovery is concerned. The pandemic was new to a lot of them though. It was different than an earthquake or flood that might take out a bunch of gear… the human element was front and center.
The challenge was to keep everyone healthy and keep the customers out! A lot of these data center services employees became designated as 'vital workers'. To keep the onsite headcount to a bare minimum, robust remote access tools were important for everyone involved. Some of the largest customers had extraordinary requirements, particularly as video conferencing and remote learning became more important. Massive capacity increases were in the cards.
Rich remembers when everyone thought that 2018 was the year that couldn't be topped in the industry. 2020 shattered those figures. And in 2021, overseas markets are catching up to that boom. Everyone you talk to says that more data is being used year after year. Society is just becoming more digital. The growth path will be robust for a long time to come.
What’s the Next Big Thing?
When asked about the tech that will most contribute to the growth of the data center services industry, Rich immediately went to artificial intelligence. Bottom line benefits and providing business value are the key drivers to AI adoption. Those desirable outcomes won’t change any time soon.
Really, AI is an infrastructure story. Given the plans Rich has heard about in recent virtual industry get togethers, some of the stuff in the AI hardware pipeline takes place at an unprecedented scale. So that's the biggest growth point to watch.
AR and VR are coming along more slowly. But they're resource intensive as well. So that's the next one to watch, along with autonomous tech like vehicles. Digital transformation and infrastructure will need to cope with the changes as demand ramps up.
Finally, what content can people see on the Data Center Frontier website?
Rich says that they work with a lot of partners. Some of those partners are sponsors as well. Others are experts who are sharing their industry reports, like the ones found at datacenterHawk. Data Center Frontier tries to look at the real estate side, the investment and finance side, and the tech side of course. For example, one of the more interesting pieces published recently was about satellites in the data center business. That’s a whole new set of experts to bring into the equation! The scope of the work, done alongside a diverse number of experts, is quite broad. And the content reflects that.