ServerFarm: Customer-focused data centres from facility to IT management

ServerFarm: Customer-focused data centres from facility to IT management

With mobile computing, 5G technology, and the internet of things (IoT) rapidly entering the fray, the data center market is expected to thrive over the coming years.

In fact, according to a report by Research and Markets, the global colocation data center market is expected to grow to $54.8bn by 2020.

But in an industry that has been defined by innovation and rapid growth, what’s the next step for the data center space?

Moving forward, ServerFarm believes that its strategy of moving physical data center assets into the virtual world is going to elevate the company to new heights.

The benefit of virtualizing servers and infrastructure is clear: it breaks the link between the physical and digital and in doing so, it creates the foundation for a more dynamic, flexible and efficient data center.

Jim Shanahan, VP of Global Operations, says that it was this unique take on data centers which first drew him to the firm.

“When I joined ServerFarm I saw an opportunity to change things; to take what in many organizations has been a rather pedestrian approach to the physical assets of the data center and bring that into the modern world by taking everything physical – space, power and cooling, as well as compute - and putting it in a private cloud with a comprehensive online interface to make it as easy as possible for end users,” explains Shanahan.

“This is an industry that is growing but also changing very quickly,” adds VP of Sales Arun Shenoy. “I think we’ve come to the realization that some of the approaches, especially in the mechanical and electrical side, are not keeping pace with the IT environment from an innovation perspective.

“At ServerFarm we believe that our customers are trying to transform their companies into organizations that care less about the physical aspects that make up a data center, so that they can focus more on the business applications that enable growth and transformation.

“That is ultimately our role in the data center space,” he continues. “We remove the pain of managing all of the physical assets in a data center.  As we see it, we are still the only company that has the ability to genuinely take all of the physical assets of the data center, including the existing assets of an enterprise, and virtualize them for our customers.”

In doing so, the US headquartered firm helps to create data centers that are more instrumented, monitored, reliable and ultimately more efficient, from both an energy and cost-perspective, than a customer could achieve by themselves.

The pair believe that it is this ability to manage everything physical in a digital world which is ServerFarm’s unique selling point.

Originally launched by the international real estate development company, Red Sea Group, ServerFarm also has a distinctive customer-centric ethos ingrained in its DNA.

With sister companies focused on hospitality, Shanahan says that the firm understands that customer service is king.

“We apply a customer focus to the data center space and it has served us very well,” says Shanahan. “Like the real estate or hospitality business, we value customer service above everything else.

“We try to be very flexible in our approach to customers because everybody's needs are different. We will go the extra mile to try and give those customers whatever they need and it pays off because we have customers that will follow us around the world.”

Nowhere can this customer loyalty be seen better than the firm’s newly-opened data center in London, in what is its first step into the European market.

The latest acquisition adds to ServerFarm’s growing data center estate with locations in California, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington and Toronto among others.

In doing so it adds a further 120,000 sq ft to the company’s footprint, bringing it to over 1mn sq ft today.

Located five minutes from Heathrow airport, the 8MW London data center has attracted customers from across the globe as Shanahan believes London is “one of the most sought-after locations” in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“It was a natural choice for us to go to London as part of our push into Europe,” notes Shanahan. “We've been eyeing a number of other opportunities throughout the region so I'd say when it comes to future expansions – watch this space.”

“We've managed to get one of our US customers onboard into a multi-megawatt capacity environment for them in around eight or nine weeks – that is something that is quite unheard of in this industry,” continues Shenoy. “I think it really speaks volumes about the way that we plan our environments and how we share our roadmap with our clients and align with their expansion plans.”

In London, ServerFarm took an existing data center and significantly upgraded it with completely new infrastructure, new technologies and new ways of working. Through the major refurbishment, it has helped drive cost-efficiency and reduce waste.

"The existing tenants now get extra capacity that they otherwise had no use for and they’re able to monetize that,” explains Shanahan. “The data center gets a new lease of life, it increases capacity and reliability for our customers and geographically, it’s in an area into which customers are keen to expand. We follow our customer where they need to be and as a result, we can be more dynamic and flexible than other players in the market.”

Driving agility and flexibility, the company’s InCommand solution further defines the company from its competitors, allowing consumers to see the current state of the data center and gain the insights needed to plan for ‘what-if’ scenarios.

With the technological innovation, ServerFarm provides customers with a portal that offers unprecedented asset lifecycle management, data, power connectivity and streamlined workflows.

As the data center industry shifts towards more hybrid solutions, this flexibility is more important than ever before, explains Shanahan.

“InCommand is the eyes and ears of the data center,” he explains. “It's the processes that govern everything and because it's delivered as a service through our people and our training, it becomes an all-encompassing operating system. We've used that to deliver some of the highest efficiency data centers. Nobody else in the industry is doing anything like this, providing this combination of people, processes and portal in such a compelling way to get such good results.

“The InCommand system is linked to the in-house management systems, building management systems and electrical power management systems, so it knows instantly what's going on in every data center in every corner of the world and can pre-diagnose a range of issues,” he adds.

“So, for example, if a chiller unit is running at less than maximum efficiency, it can diagnose this and raise a ticket to carry out a preventive maintenance task on it.”

Yet, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the firm’s solutions is the customer-centricity it provides by giving clients access to ServerFarm’s people, processes and platforms.

“I think what makes our customer experience very dynamic is the fact that, through InCommand, our customer is very closely connected to our operational environment,” observes Shenoy. “Together with our customers we’re creating a better experience regardless of their physical location.”

“We’re coming to the market with a tool which, if you were using the capacity management feature of InCommand, for example, you could identify how much spare capacity you had, and it helps you to maximise the use of all your capacity, so avoids or postpones the need for more capacity,” adds Shanahan.

“We’re maximizing customer efficiency which helps us to become trusted partners to our customers. Then they can see their interest is our interest. We’re helping our customers make the best use of the services, the capacity, the power and cooling that they buy from us and through our portal they also have such great visibility. Therefore, our customers are loyal to us.”

“With the rollout of 5G and regulations like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) underway, the data center space is changing rapidly,” says Shenoy.

“I think by 2020, ‘things’ on the internet -  in terms of the endpoint devices and applications – will outnumber consumers,” Shenoy says. “There will be more data and traffic generated by things rather than people and that requires infrastructure to be thought about, designed and delivered very differently.

“5G and new regulatory requirements will also accelerate change. We find ourselves in a market that is changing size and shape quite dramatically. Our customers find that a very challenging environment, and therefore they need companies like ServerFarm who understand how to manage those physical environments.”

Security is now, more than ever, a prevalent issue in the data center sector, and it is something Shanahan and his team are keen to tackle head-on.

“I think it's becoming evident to us that in the next number of years the challenges that are out there in terms of individual hackers, nation-state threats, and physical and logical security are suddenly becoming a real issue for people,” he notes.

“I think we're going to experience a sea of change in how concerned consumers and organizations are about their data and accordingly, we have taken steps to provide what we see as one of the most secure solutions in the industry with routine assessments and penetration testing by cybersecurity professionals.”

Attracting and hiring talent and expertise is a challenge for any company, especially in IT and the data center space. But with a strong sense of purpose and a holistic approach to training, ServerFarm has circumvented the challenge and grown a strong and capable team.

“We hire the best-in-class,” notes Shanahan. “The majority of our personnel are equally trained in mechanical and electrical, physical and IT and then we also have a team of high-level specialists for each of those areas. This means we have a holistic approach to how we train and retain our people. It actually pays off very well for us in customer service and our personnel’s satisfaction levels.

“I think we're quite unique in the industry because we have a real purpose,” adds Shenoy.

“We've created a fast-moving environment because of our strong growth but we're also innovating. That combination of a fast-growing organization which has a purpose and really focuses on innovation is a tough environment to replicate anywhere else. I think this is in part why we have such a high retention rate.”

It seems this sense of purpose has cemented ServerFarm’s position as an expert data center organization. Combined with the firm’s customer-focus, the US company is set to continue on this upward trajectory in the years to come.

Arun Shenoy