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Colocation America: In-Depth Interview on the Colocation Market, the Industry's Future, and Doing Good in the World

Colocation AmericaWe continue our interview series today with Quinton Clapper, Chief Content Officer of Colocation America.  They’re a leader in the colocation space and in this interview, Quinton goes into fantastic depth on what it’s like to be an enterprise in this space: the challenges, the market, the future, the hurdles, and their emphasis on doing social good and developing STEM kids.  It’s really a great read – enjoy!

Where in the world are you located?

I’m located in Los Angeles, CA – well, technically, the valley. The rest of the team is all over the place – some of us are in LA, some of us on the East Coast. We truly are everywhere our clients are.

From your company’s name, I assume your primary focus is colocation.  How is that market today?  I’d think with the big push to cloud, virtualization, etc. that is no as popular as it was, say, 10 years ago?

Yes, we focus on colocation – the space, power, connectivity needed to run our client’s IT infrastructure. With that said, we do see a bigger push of clients needing a “hybrid solution” – a hosting solution that mixes virtualization, cloud, and bare metal solutions. Then again, at the end of every “cloud” & “virtualized” solution is a data center keeping them up & running so we are still definitely needed.

Are you in the “datacenter as a service” business or the colocation business?  What is the difference?

I like to say we are a “colocation provider” – we provide space, power, and connectivity in a secure data center. This differs from, what I call, a “data center provider” – we do not own the data center but rent out the space. This model allows us to offer our clients more services and at an affordable price. And, yes, like most companies that offer data center services, we can do different solutions based on our clients’ needs – a “data center as a service” type of approach. Thanks to our years in the business, we have partners & IT experts that we work with that can, well, do anything related to hosting a client’s hardware.

When public clouds first came along, the vision was that someday everything would be running “in the cloud”.  But when I look around the industry today, most companies are doing a mix of cloud services, self-hosted services, virtualized servers, and dedicated servers.  How do you see the cloud space evolving?

Exactly, you are right – we are all doing a mix of cloud services, in some way. There was a joke back in the days in the channel side of the business that said “go to cloud or die” (a gross overstatement of the phrase but that is the gist). I would argue that, in a way, you need to go cloud – you need to offer the connectivity aspect of cloud. Essentially, can you connect to the “big” providers?

As we look to the future, I see the need for data center services to remain but at a different capacity – less physical space will be needed to host client’s cloud-based solutions. I think it all depends on the use-case – what is the client doing with their server? Their switch? There are many applications & business processes that still require a physical server and we are here for that. It really all dials down to planning and cost – sometimes it still makes sense to go with an off-site premise solution like what we offer.

What differentiates Colocation America from other vendors in your markets?

At Colocation America, we are all about customer service and support. We focus on offering our clients the support they need when things go wrong. But, even before they bring in their first server, we focus on not “locking them in” – we offer flexible contracts and solutions. We understand that things are always changing in the IT world and therefore, a client’s colocation needs change too – we offer the amount of space and power a client needs, when they need it, ithout locking them into the “yearly” contract with a “3% increase.”

Lastly, and, perhaps, most importantly, I always like to bring up our social good – we are dedicated to bringing STEM programming to K-12 students who otherwise would not have access. Over the last 10 years, we have helped over 5000 students in numerous states, numerous cities, have access to amazing STEM programming. And we are continuing – we now offer a STEM Grant every two years to offer nonprofits from all over the US a chance to get funding for their students.

I’m always curious how companies attract new clients.  You are in a very crowded, highly competitive market.  How do you stand out and how do you find customers?

Luck – just joking (kind of). We were built by a Marketing Executive whose server continued to go down with their own provider. We have always focused on creating content around educating the world on good IT practices & the latest IT news. We create content on our site numerous times a week and promote it out into the social media realm (and, occasionally, in IT-specific platforms). Beyond that, word of mouth is a big one – we try to always help a potential client that reaches out even if it wont result in a sale. Our approach is to always help a client find their correct solution, not force our services on them. When you have this “help them first” mentality, the word spreads & people continue to reach out. We are thankful that we have a great group of clients who spread their love.

Managing all the IP addresses, network switches and ports, devices, etc. involves a lot of complexity.  Is there any software suite you use for orchestrating all of that, or is something you developed in-house? Or do you just use spreadsheets and “do not erase!” whiteboards?

Ah, yes, a big question. No matter what software suite you use, you still need a staff member (or team) to check your IP addresses and their utilization. With that said, we use other monitoring systems but, ultimately, still have a master “spreadsheet” to triple check everything. After all, no one wants to knock of a client for a bad IP address management system.

You guys get down into the physical layer of the datacenter, and I was really interested to read how you classify your sites as Tier 3 DCs.  I also found it interesting that to get to Tier 4 is rougly double the investment.  I have to imagine that managing the physical DC layer (power, cooling, transit links, etc.) is a huge workload.  What’s it like to be in the DC business in 2021 and how has that changed over the years?

Besides cost increases, I am not sure much has changed. We still offer space, power, connectivity based on our client’s needs. In 2021, there has been a shortage of hardware – switches, CPU chips, etc – that has affected people from moving into the data center, so we are dealing with a lot of those delays. Also, with COVID restrictions, access to the data center has been limited to essential visits by clients. This means our team is doing most of the services our clients may have come into the data center to complete. As with every other year, this comes at no additional charges to the client – our basic remote hands is still free.

Click here to learn more about tier standards on Colocation America’s web site!

Your company must employ a wide range of talent – from people who are datacenter specialists to Linux/Windows admins to network engineers, etc.  The hiring market right now is brutal.  How do you find and attract talent in 2021?

Honestly, we are lucky – our team has stayed with us. At Colocation America, we understand the
importance of a strong leader – one that encourages others, is empathetic, and, well, fun to be around. Thanks to our leadership team, we have been able to maintain our talent & not have to go into the brutal hiring market.

Are people on your team focused on their silos, or do you have a lot of jack-of-all-trades players?  Some of the skills you need must be very specialized, yet increasingly engineers are being asked to wear many hats.

We have a good mixture of staff that is a specialist and others that are a “jack-of-all-trades.” At Colocation America, we encourage people to explore areas they are interested in. We hire people that have a passion for what they do but also have passions outside of the office. We try to have our team focus on work-life balance. And in the occasion we do not know something, we reach out to our team of partners and experts – they will educate our whole team so we can learn from it in the future.

Datacenters consume a lot of power and are potentially very environmentally impactful.  How do you balance your ecological footprint with your need for speed?

Sadly, this is not a focus of ours. Our model is to have space within facilities that our Small Business clients may not be able to, well, occupy. We offer single server colocation plans in our two flagship locations – Los Angeles and New Jersey. Although they are not the best on controlling their environmental impact, they are considerate of it & the factors involved.

A few times a year, someone comes on LowEndTalk looking for Mac hosting, which seems to be a very niche business.  Can you tell us about your offering in this space?

Mac Mini Hosting is a service that is not going away. We offer it when clients request it – it can fit in a 1U space if placed in the right casing. We do have a team member or two on staff that can help with the troubleshooting of Mac Minis but it’s definitely not as big as it once ways.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

It’s been an interesting, almost, two years for us all. Mostly, it’s our staff that has been through it & we are trying to support them with whatever they need. Our client’s come & go – some are having newfound issues due to the pandemic while others are flourishing. It’s interesting to see which business are excelling (more then ever before) and those that are, sadly, closing. We are a family here at Colocation America so it’s hard to see our client’s close up shop.

As for us, we are doing well. Businesses have had to consolidate their IT infrastructure which caters perfectly to us – we focus on single server plans to 2 racks. Essentially, with clients needing less space and power, they are turning to us for their needs. We do not require a full rack to do business with us so we are the perfect solution for many companies today.

Please tell us about your STEM Grant program.

The STEM Innovation Grant was created to fund nonprofit programs that inspire and encourage K-12
students to pursue their interest and curiosity in STEM. Our next STEM Grant is in 2022 and gives to 5-10 programs throughout the US that focus on STEM programming. This is one of my favorite things we have added in the last 7 years or so – it is full of, well, goodness. Our only goal is fund programs that offer innovated STEM programming (we have made it STEAM – adding the importance of Arts in the mix). We do it every two years. The last year being 2020 with all the uncertainty – we got over 500 applicants. We were able to fund programming for all different types of students – different states, economic status, and interest. We look forward to having another STEM Grant cycle this year & hope that more nonprofits apply.

Looking out over the next 10 years are you optimistic about the hosting market?  There’s a perception out there that it is going to continue to grow for the forseeable future and we’re still in the early stages. Do you agree?

Like with any technology business, you must adapt or die. Thankfully, colocation and data center
services are one of those aspects of the IT business that just won’t die. Ultimately, every business in the world needs our services – from a small business looking for web hosting or full hybrid cloud solution for a fortune 100 company – what we offer is still needed.

So, yes, it will continue to grow – the more businesses being created, the more businesses that need us.

If you need colocation services, be sure to check out Colocation America for your needs!


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