Sharif Fotouh Talks Edge Data Centers with Dean Perrine of JSA TV

Our very own Sharif Fotouh was on JSA TV recently to discuss all things edge data centers (including all the various permutations of “edge computing” out there). Click the video to watch, or you can read the entire interview, transcribed below.

Dean: This is JSA TV, the newsroom for tech and telecom professionals. I’m Dean Perrine, and welcome to JSA TV. We are coming at you on location at Metro Connect 2019 in beautiful Miami, Florida, and I’m here with Mr. Sharif Fotouh. Sharif is the Managing Director of EdgePoint at Compass Data Centers. Sharif, welcome to JSA TV.

Sharif: Thanks for having me, Dean.

Dean: You bet, you bet. So, let’s just jump right in. For our viewers that don’t already know, why don’t you tell them a little bit about Compass Data Centers?

Sharif: Absolutely. So, Compass Data Centers was founded in 2012 by Chris Crosby, who’s still our CEO, with a mission to deliver fast, scalable data centers wherever users required them, and specifically targeting enterprises that required complete control of their facility. EdgePoint is a company I founded, when I left Google a couple years ago, with a very similar mission but very focused on small-scale, or what we now call, edge data centers. Shortly after leaving Google and founding EdgePoint, Compass acquired EdgePoint, so now we’re EdgePoint within Compass Data Centers, and…

Dean: Thank you for that clarification. That’s actually very, very helpful. Thank you.

Sharif: No problem. Our marketing is still kind of in its early stages, so there’s a lot of confusion and integration going on behind the scenes to clarify that message.

Dean: Outstanding. You mentioned the edge. The edge means, seemingly means, different things to different people. Why don’t you tell our viewers a little bit about what the edge means to Compass Data Centers?

Sharif: Great question. Gosh.

Dean: Where to start, right?

Sharif: Yeah, where to start in defining the edge. Like, it’s a much more… It’s a longer debate that requires a lot more people in the room, but you’re absolutely right, that the term edge, really, it isn’t a new concept. The basic concept is that geography matters. If geography didn’t matter, we would have put all the data centers in the cheapest power location in the country or in the world, and all the data would be piped across the planet, you know, seamlessly and free. But the reality is, bandwidth costs money, and so people put data centers closer to users or closer to where the application resides, and edge is just the next extension of that.

And so, what tends to be branded as edge now is just kind of the next extension, but 10 years ago, edge was putting data centers in tier-two markets around the country, right, going beyond just New York and Los Angeles, going to Chicago and Denver. That was the edge of 10 or 15 years ago. The new edge is going a step further and tackling a lot of the smaller tier-two markets, tier-three markets, and maybe multiple sectors within larger cities, like Miami.

Dean: Yeah. So, why is that? I mean, who are these early adopters of the edge and why is it that the edge is now going, seemingly, everywhere?

Sharif: It’s really the same old story of bandwidth economics, but it’s just data consumption and the general acceleration of consumption of data over mobile devices, or kind of, all of our smart devices in our world just continue to skyrocket. So, now, you know, the data usage of 10 years ago justified facilities in all the major tier-two markets. As our data usage continues to grow exponentially, now it just makes sense economically to put data centers even closer to users.

Dean: Very good. So, because we hear so much about the edge and because we hear so much about, in our industry in particular, differentiation and what makes one company different from the other is something that is increasingly becoming more difficult to define, but I’m going to ask you anyway. Why don’t you tell our viewers a little bit about what defines Compass Data Centers or what differentiates you from the rest?

Sharif: We’re the best. No…

Dean: I love that answer. That is perfect. That is perfect. And I think we’re done here now, right?

Sharif: Completely objective. No, I mean, there’s a few differentiators. I’d say, first and foremost, control. Our model is a wholesale model where we provide the facility for our customers and they exercise complete control over who they let in that facility, what cross-connects they want to run. We’re not in the business of trying to get in between our customers and their end users. And so, we really look at this from a wholesale strategy, which is, if you look at the history of how data centers evolved, that is kind of the maturity stage where data centers now are in after, you know, 10 or 15 years of playing around with different models. And so, we really are in that wholesale space for mature data centers and the larger facilities, and that’s really where we’re positioned to be on the edge.

I’d add to that, experience. So, very uniquely, the time I spent at Google, almost five years, I was on the Google fiber project where I was responsible for rolling out dozens of high-density telecom shelters all over every Google fiber city in this country. And so, in the hundreds…or I have experience in the hundreds of deploying these facilities across the country, understanding that there are a lot of mistakes I made in my past and scars on my back that we can now leverage into lessons learned with our solution set.

Dean: I love that, Sharif. Yeah.

Sharif: Thanks.

Dean: Now, what are the benefits and distinctions of kind of a wholesale edge offering?

Sharif: Great question. So, I’d highlight that one of the largest like value-adds we can provide, especially when you look at providing edge as a wholesale model, is speed. We don’t need a consortium of large conglomerates, whether they be mobile network operators, or tower owners, or hyperscale companies, to all get around a table and agree that this is the vision for them. We really just need one customer that’s ready and we can deploy today.

Second is flexibility. Again, because it’s a wholesale offering, we can provide our customers an IT environment that suits their needs, not our vision for what their IT needs to fit within.

And the last thing, it’s going to sound like there’s an echo on in here, but control, again, is that I think it’s very unique in what we’re offering to a customer because they can exercise every bit of control throughout the life cycle, and they’re not beholden to some intermediary party that will operate that facility and tell them who they can and can’t connect to, or how much power they can and can’t use in which racks.

Dean: Awesome. Okay. So, I’m going off script now, just for a minute, because we’re talking a lot about trends today at Metro Connect. We’re hearing lots of different trends. We’re hearing a lot of the same buzzwords that we hear and that we have heard, really, over the last year or two, maybe even three years. But what do you see as kind of those key technological trends that are really driving in the data center space?

Sharif: So, trends that are driving the data center space, specifically?

Dean: Yeah.

Sharif: Oh, great question. So, I think one of the bigger trends is, and this applies to edge, but it’s really starting to have huge ramifications in the larger facilities as well, is automating data center operations and making those operations seamless and, as much as possible, zero-touch. Again, in the days of yore, like, you used to have a team of people that lived at that data center 24/7 to watch the network, watch the power, watch the cooling, and respond to any issues. As those data centers… As the margins have gotten a little slimmer and the area’s gotten more competitive, the first area to optimize your operations are on those systems and employing, you know, machine learning, AI, and good software to automate the operations.

With edge, it’s absolutely necessary that that be a priority because you’ll never position a team or even a single person to staff a data location. So, those facilities really have a high-cost barrier every time you need to dispatch a technician, so that software pays in dividends if it really does provide you that zero-touch environment.

Dean: Outstanding, Sharif. You’ve been wonderful to have on the show today. We appreciate it.

Sharif: Thanks for having me, Dean. I had a lot of fun.

Dean: You bet, and so did I. Thanks. And thank you, viewers, for watching JSA TV. We’ll see you soon.

We hope you enjoyed Sharif and Dean discussing the “state of the edge”, and why Compass Datacenter’s EdgePoint data centers are the perfect solution to your edge computing.

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