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Tech Bytes: Local data centers hope for Facebook tailwinds

bizO-RobinsonAvila_Kevin_BizO_TechAlbuquerque’s existing data center operators say Facebook’s arrival in New Mexico could generate some sorely needed brand name recognition for the data-storage industry here.

Unlike Facebook, which plans to build a massive data center in Los Lunas to manage its own servers and networks, Albuquerque’s three existing data centers are co-location facilities where local, national and even international businesses and institutions pay to store their servers and online operations infrastructure. That includes two 60,000-square-foot facilities Downtown run by bigbyte.cc and OSO Grande Technologies, and a massive, 421,000-square-foot facility run by CenturyLink near the Albuquerque International Sunport.

Those facilities have been operating for years, but none is filled to capacity, in part because Albuquerque and New Mexico in general are not recognized as data-storage industry hubs like big cities on the East and West coasts, or even cities in surrounding states. Yet New Mexico offers some ideal conditions that most other places don’t have, principally its lack of natural disasters. That’s a key asset to generate confidence among companies and institutions that want to store their information technology networks in the safest, most secure facilities possible, said OSO Grande Chief Financial Officer Travis Tweeter.

“Our lack of disasters is a big asset and the more recognition there is of that, the more demand we’ll see here,” Tweeter said. “Historically, most data centers have located on the East and West coasts, but consider the earthquakes in the West, and hurricanes and flooding in the East, plus the higher costs of doing business in those places. Our zero natural disasters makes us an ideal place.”

New Mexico’s moderate climate is also an asset compared to scathing heat in a city like Phoenix or ice storms in other places, which drive up data center cooling and heating costs. So is New Mexico’s fairly robust information technology workforce, which is needed to manage data-storage operations.

But, to attract customers, those things must be broadly marketed, something operators here believe will be easier after Facebook’s arrival.

“To have a world name like Facebook here can only be positive,” said Richard Vasquez, OSO Grande director of sales and business development. “If I go to Texas to talk with potential customers, people will now immediately recognize us from Facebook. It’s a real selling point for us.”

It could also entice more data center operators to consider establishing facilities here. That includes other big companies like Facebook that could set up centers for their own operations, as well as co-location facilities that sell space and services for companies to store their systems.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but having a huge name player on the scene is advantageous for any industry,” said bigbyte.cc co-owner Nerissa Whittington. “For our business, having a big brand like Facebook here is like having an anchor tenant in a mall.”

As it stands now, it can be challenging to attract more customers to local data centers, although Albuquerque operators say business is doing very well.

Bigbyte.cc, which opened its Downtown facility in 2001, has more than 50 individual customers using its operating space. About half of the two-acre building is dedicated to data storage, where servers and networks are housed, Whittington said. The rest is devoted to business operations, including conference rooms and offices for data center customers. Clients include small companies with just one server housed on a rack to huge business and institutional clients with up to 3,000 square feet of space.

“We house everything from startups to well-established clients, including medical and financial institutions,” Whittington said. “We’ve been cash-flow positive since day one.”

The OSO Grande Data Center is launching a $1.5 million upgrade to its facility, reflecting growing demand for space, said board chair and CEO Dennis Jontz.

OSO originally opened its center in 2008 in a 22,000-square-foot space that it leased on Downtown’s north side. But last year, OSO acquired the full 60,000-square-foot building, expanding the original 4,000-square-foot area that was reserved for servers and network systems to about 10,000 square feet now. About 80 percent of the original data storage space is now either occupied or reserved by about 25 companies.

“We’ll have up to 5,000 square feet of data storage space filled up by the end of the year,” Jontz said. “We’re building out because we have business in the pipeline.”

Like bigbyte.cc, the rest of OSO’s building is dedicated to support services for customers, as well as conference rooms, office space and training areas for businesses to manage some of their operations.

Data centers initially emerged as secure facilities where businesses could back up their systems in case of disaster. But, with the world growing far more connected and with high-speed bandwidth becoming more widely available, many more businesses are moving from managing their own online infrastructure to letting third parties manage it for them in the cloud.

That can dramatically lower costs for businesses.

“Most companies really shouldn’t be in the business of managing their own mini data centers, given the huge costs involved,” Vasquez said. “As more businesses realize that, many more will look to move into third-party data centers. I see market demand cranking up in the near future.”

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