Ahead of DCD>Dallas (21-22 October), DCBlox Chief Strategy & Connectivity Officer, Jeff Wabik sat down for a Q&A with DCD’s Kisandka Moses, who is producing this year’s conference, to discuss site selection, automated operations and edge strategy.

Q: DC BLOX is a new data center colocation provider in Alabama, what conditions made Birmingham ideal for off-site storage?

A: With our focus on underserved markets, all of which are bustling with technology and innovation, we are able to bring in a new paradigm, if you will, along with infrastructure reliability and even connectivity to those markets that are often overlooked.

The public cloud providers offer infrastructure mostly in major cities, so offering cloud storage much closer to their business, plus a high-speed network to connect to, means local businesses have a much better option to protect their data for backup and disaster recovery. Technology and infrastructure solutions are often deployed in much larger metropolitan areas, so with the industry moving to some of the smaller markets, businesses can either bring all their equipment to the big city and endure the expense and pain of having to commute there as needed to have access, or they can try to roll their own. Neither of these options are necessarily optimal. So, as we looked in Alabama, Birmingham seemed like a perfect fit for us. Of course, there are other markets that we’re considering that are blossoming with innovation, but we're excited to make Birmingham an example of how we serve locally and connect globally.

Q: As the telecommunications industry develops and moves toward 5G, the concept of zero touch is becoming increasingly important. Is a zero touch provisioning system a reality that DC BLOX has considered? What are the biggest hurdles for implementation?

A: That's a great question. You know, you highlighted 5G, but I would respond that independence of the application automation and service provisioning is always a key focus for us on our infrastructure. Automation yields benefits such as quality and reliability and, to the degree practicable, removes humans and human error from the equation. There are times that engineers will know they'll be sleepy — maybe it's three in the morning during the maintenance window. But they might interfere with a command to a device and cause some sort of an outage. So automation makes things more reliable.

The other piece that's really important to us is service velocity. So, if we can automate the process of provisioning service for a customer, our ability to deliver that service to the customer more rapidly is realized. The customers always appreciate speed. The moment they decide they want to obtain a service from us, you know, they want it right now. If you're dealing with a large telecommunications company, you can wait 60 or 90 days for them to turn up a service you’ve ordered. In our network, however, I can turn up or make a change to a service in 5-10 seconds.

So you know, the question you asked focused around zero touch provisioning or zero touch networking, and I don't think we're ever going to get to the place where we can actually realize true zero touch, because I think humans do have to be involved to understand exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it. But certainly, the evolution toward full automation is one that we take very seriously.

Q: Your Birmingham, Alabama, data center sits on top of a converted site that used to be one of the largest steel mills in the South. Did you encounter any technological challenges when you converted the site?

A: The site was largely cleared of the prior buildings before our purchase. We took great care to assess the environmental impact of converting an industrial site to a technology site. With our construction partners in the tech community, we had the tools necessary to complete all that, to make sure that everything was safe and to make those improvements.

It was exciting for us to be part of the evolution, helping Birmingham convert from an industrial powerhouse to a technology powerhouse. But, you know, any problems with the conversion of the site really weren't an issue.

Q: Can you outline why fiber optic deployment has been so pivotal to your bottom line?

A: This is an easy one. As our customers trust us with their key critical technology, equipment and infrastructure, one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, is that now that it is in our bunker, the customer still has reliable bandwidth and low-latency connectivity to it. This ensures that for all intents and purposes, that equipment appears to still be living, you know, in their facility.

So, a key differentiator for us is that in addition to providing that bunker, which offers tenants those concrete walls, 24/7 security and reliable, fully redundant power and cooling — everything you'd expect from a tier three data center — we also provide a connectivity that we own and operate and manage ourselves as part of the solution. By doing that, when customers approach us to be their data center provider, we are able to connect them and connect their equipment in our data center back to their campus or wherever they might be. We also give them access to our entire communications ecosystem, which includes not only all of our data centers, but all the other touch points in that ecosystem, such as the internet exchange at 56 Marietta in Atlanta, giving them access to just about any location or network they need access to worldwide. So, with that connectivity solution, we actually find that we're able to further enable customers to not only trust us, but to ensure that their applications and disaster recovery strategies are enabled and robust across a larger geographical footprint.

We can do that all tied together with what I talked about a few minutes ago in terms of automating the infrastructure, so that the network connectivity piece is something that we can provision in seconds or minutes, rather than weeks or months.

Q: I was having an interesting conversation earlier about edge facilities and whether or not the industry is ready for what 5G is going to bring. With the increased data flows and enhanced latency demands which 5G will propel, do you think that most sites are ready to support this?

A: I’m not sure about most sites, but one of the things that we focus on in our design is modularity and scalability. We've all seen how our laptops have gone from megabytes to gigabytes to terabytes of storage, we've gone from 3G to 4G to 5G wireless, and then that rate of technology continues. We're all keenly aware of it. So you know, as we have done our homework and defined our architecture and keyed in on our modular approach, we're able to scale our facilities, regardless of application. So, we might have a data hall on a specific campus that is tailored towards what I would call small to mid-sized enterprises with modest needs that might use it more as a touch point for stability and reliability, rather than high performance or high scale. At the same time, we might have a second or third data center that is focused on the hyperscalers that pack equipment into a very, very small space and burn an incredible amount of power.

We've had requests from some customers to do as much as 70 or 80 kilowatts of power per cabinet and do that for an entire data hall, which quickly gets up into several megawatts of necessary power to drive all that. With our modular approach, we can scale to any capacity for power or bandwidth, so we're actually excited and looking forward to 5G and what lies beyond that.

Q: We’re hearing a lot about telcos who are now turning central offices into data centers. Does that mean we perhaps don’t need as many modular sites and some of those telcos will pick up the slack in terms of data processing?

A: We're certainly aware of some telecom providers that open their PoPs (points of presence) to equipment from third parties. I can't mention any names, but telecom providers come to us and say, okay, we don't want to be in this business anymore. They want to take all the customers that are third party customers in their space, and they want to give them to us. We've also had some telecom providers come to us and say that they don't even want to own the building that they put their own telecom gear in. They want a hall or a big chunk of space in our data center for that. So we've actually seen the opposite.

Ultimately, I think you can always find an example of somebody doing anything in the world. But we tend to see a migration to just focusing on core competency. I think the telecom providers are thinking about their telecommunications solutions and their core competency, and operating a building to be bulletproof and redundant and safe and reliable is just a necessary evil for them. Bunkers to store key critical equipment is our core business and something we excel at, and so we're excited to have those conversations.

Jeff will join us at DCD>Dallas on 21-22 October, to share his insights into "Do milliseconds still matter and does the edge require core sites or small cells?"