The planet is awash with information. Every day, humans generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – reports, selfies, text messages, high definition videos, infographics – in an (almost equally) staggering number of ways. One of the most remarkable things about this ocean of bits and bytes is that 90% of it was created in the past three years. Our ability to move, scan, parse and store this data is fast becoming essential for the maintenance of a functioning digital society. At the core of this is the data centre, essentially a high-tech storage facility for servers that allow vast quantities of data to be remotely processed, stored and distributed. The data centre industry, predicted to achieve annual market values of around $174bn per year by 2023, according to MarketWatch, has undergone a radical evolution in the past decade, and the pace of change is showing no signs of slowing.
Having worked in the data centre space since 2004, Sean Maskell, President and General Manager of the Canadian arm of Cologix, Inc, has witnessed this transformation first hand. “When I started in the industry, these were, I would say, not so cool places,” he recalls. “These were spaces overrun by massive amounts of copper cables, DS3 mux’s, DSX Panels and crusty old Telecom technicians – that's certainly evolved over the years and continues to evolve even faster. We're now witnessing sizeable growth in the industry, lead particularly by the hyperscale and Cloud Service providers. Enterprises are heading down the path towards digital transformation in a big way, as they continue to move workloads to the cloud, and their consumers expect always-on connections with low latency to the internet of things (IoT). To make this happen, our clients require robust interconnection and cloud on-ramp locations that push this consumable data closer to the edge, meaning closer to the users that are demanding that information.” The major trend that Maskell identifies is the industry’s shift away from the traditional conception of a single large data centre in a technology hub like Los Angeles or Chicago, towards capacity in tier two markets that are closer to the end user. This trend aligns tightly with the new methodology, which involves multiple interconnected facilities built around central carrier and cloud hubs, like spokes on a wheel.
“That's really pushed the providers in Canadian and US markets to ensure sites are strategic for carrier and cloud interconnection, which is something that we're very conscious of when we build or expand our facilities to include hyperscale capacity,” Maskell explains. “Our facilities are strategically located interconnection hubs, that allow our customers extensive carrier and cloud choice within close proximity to their consumers.” With over 28 interconnection hubs and 5 hyperscale capacity data centres across the US and Canada, Cologix is one of the leading technology agnostic colocation service providers in the region. We sat down with Maskell to discuss Cologix’s four impressive new data centre projects across Canada and the US, as well as the strategies and trends at the heart of the company’s vision for success.
Cologix’s identity as an interconnection, cloud on-ramp and colocation services organization sees it work with some of the largest technology companies in the world. “Our client base is one of the best,” Maskell enthuses. “The five top technology companies in the world are in our facilities.” To attract and maintain relationships with that calibre of customer, Cologix has become a preeminent source of expertise when providing space, power and cooling in locations that give clients the maximized opportunities for interconnection. As an agnostic data service provider, Cologix has reinforced to Maskell the importance of accommodating customer needs as they evolve. “One the biggest lessons I have learned is to remain agile – that covers agility from executive management, and sales, but more importantly it's agility in terms of operations, construction and design,” he says. “Our industry is altering rapidly: deployments are modernizing, business plans are being reshaped by emerging technologies and new innovative ways of delivering services are continually being rolled out. Facilities now have to scale to meet those challenges and demands in order to allow the client’s business to succeed over three, five or even 10 years. I do not have a crystal ball that can predict what those changes and demands might be, but our facilities need to be designed, constructed and operated in a way that allows us to quickly add, remove and change the capacity for power, cooling, interconnection and so on.”
Embracing the industry-wide movement towards a dispersed and interconnected data centre model that improves client experience and success is central to Cologix’s competitive advantage. “Each core data center in the markets Cologix operates encompasses an important and strategic interconnection site – that's our focus,” Maskell explains. “But, as these interconnection facilities begin to fill up, we need additional capacity to stay ahead of our clients’ demand. To accomplish this, we construct that additional capacity outside of those interconnection hotels and connect the expansion facility by high-count fibre. This allows our clients seamless, low latency connections, while enabling them to have the carrier and cloud choice that's critical to our business.”
This is the methodology and mindset with which Cologix is building and upgrading new facilities in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Ashburn, Virginia. “Cologix is within weeks of releasing an impressive and largest of its kind 40,000sqft, and 5MW of power in Vancouver (VAN3). Then, in Toronto we've just brought on-line an additional floor at our 905 King Street West facility (TOR2) – that encompasses 20,000sqft with 4MW of total power.” In Montreal, the city where Cologix’s footprint is the largest (10 facilities) following its 2018 acquisition of Colo-D, the company continues to grow its offerings in one of the most favorable data centre climates in Canada. “When you look at our growth in the Montreal market, it in part comes down to a greener power delivery system and ideal weather conditions. The cost of power, which is the lowest in the Canadian market, also helps. This enables Cologix to pass along those savings to our customers,” Maskell explains. “We’ve just added 15 MW ready for service at our MTL10-H Longueil campus, and acquired an adjacent building to this campus to respond quickly to strong customer demand in the market. Additionally, we began engineering the utility for our MTL8-H Technoparc campus, which will offer 36MW.”
The Ashburn project, which will be built on a plot of land at the core of Data Center Alley, will be something of a special project for Cologix. “We’re looking to build a 100MW hyperscale data centre,” says Maskell. Currently, for most companies that aren’t Google or Amazon Web Services, a 100MW data centre is a rare thing. Maskell sees the project as an embodiment of Cologix’s ongoing growth strategy. “It not only strengthens our commitment to the hyperscale market and the business that's out there, but I think it's a sign of demand for space that’s growing with it,” he says.
Looking to the future, Maskell doesn’t see the pace of data centre evolution slowing any time soon, and is confident Cologix has the right mixture of infrastructure and flexibility in order to respond. “I think one of the biggest shifts I’m seeing is the physical connection between the carrier or cloud provider and customer. This shift has evolved into a software defined network platform (Cologix Access Market Place), where the customer is in control. Clients have access to a robust network of providers and can initiate almost real time changes to their circuits and workloads as they see fit,” he says. As hyperscale growth continues to accelerate, Maskell believes that the need for increased interconnectedness will only grow with it. “It's fantastic to have a massive state-of-the-art facility with an endless supply of power and cooling, but can it be interconnected? Is there a way for data to move in or out?” he asks. “It would be similar to building a beautiful five-star resort on a remote island without a ferry service. Regardless of how nice it is, no one's going to come!” By continuing to expand its capacity and ensuring that capacity is interconnected, Cologix intends to maintain its commanding position in the market. “We've got one of the best balance sheets in the industry,” enthuses Maskell. “We’re the number one data centre provider in Canada and we're going to continue to protect and strengthen that position.”