Jeff Uphues, CEO of DC BLOX, discusses the company’s growth in underserved markets and how it embeds its Tier 3 data centres into the local community...
DC BLOX was established in 2014 to provide data centres to markets with a distinct, but unfulfilled, need for them. “I've been the CEO of DC BLOX for about three years now,” says Jeff Uphues. “I originally joined as a supervisory board member and then was asked by the board of directors to come into the role and lead the company in its expansion, placing these data centres in underserved yet growing markets throughout the Southeastern United States.”
Fulfilling this vision has required a focus on a few core fundamentals. “There's three things that we do and stay focused on,” he says. “One is providing in-market colocation, meaning the housing in a safe, secure environment of servers as well as other technology infrastructure. We provide robust connectivity across our platforms with connections to other cloud service providers, connections to the internet, connections to other major markets. Then we provide cloud services ourselves. Not all data is created equal, and it’s critical to be able to store it close to where it's actually being consumed.”
There are currently four such locations of consumption catered to by DC BLOX, with data centres in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama; and Atlanta, Georgia. All are growing markets, as Uphues explains. “We see a significant migration of population and businesses in the US from northern cities down into the Southeast. What’s driving them there is the cost of living or quality of life and just good weather.” What these diverse cities share, apart from a relative geographic proximity, is a burgeoning technology scene. “Many of these markets are not known as technology hubs, but they see the benefits of the growth and they need the core infrastructure such as the data centres and network services which we provide. Generally, our target markets are below the radar of some of the major national markets where you find a lot of competitors, so they really embrace us.”
DC BLOX’s data centres are all built to Tier 3 standard, signifying a high level of reliability. That’s achieved firstly with quality infrastructure. “Our data centres have to be highly resilient in terms of network architecture and the type of equipment that we use. We use premium products, driven by premium service level agreements. We build our own private network across the Southeastern US and then we connect that back into exchanges and public cloud providers. We really look at that connectivity and the uptime of our facilities as the core value that we bring to our markets.” Achieving DC BLOX’s high standards also requires a high standard of construction. ”Beyond the connectivity, it's a question of how we build these facilities to be Tier 3-rated. It comes down to being concurrently maintainable, meaning that if any one system in the building fails, there is a backup system that can take over. It’s part of the design, it's in the materials and the type of vendors that we use. It's in the architecture for how we connect them together.”
The pace of DC BLOX’s growth has been steady, having launched a data centre each year since 2017. That’s not engendered any complacency, however, with the organisation looking to accelerate its growth. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at where we can expand and how we can grow even faster. There are 16 markets we’ve identified, and we've lined up roughly the next five to six locations. We're picking up our pace to put in at least two to three data centres per year.” The choice of a new location is only arrived at after significant investigation, however, as Uphues explains. “To help us determine the size and scope of the facility we're looking to build, we look at the size of the market, the amount of fiber, the number of businesses headquartered there. Then we look at markets that are underserved but growing. What does the competitive landscape look like? How well would we be received with our vision of serving locally and connecting globally? And then, finally, we work with state and local governments and corporate leaders to confirm the need for and the advantages of what we do. Each market takes us about a year and a half to really get to understand it.”
It’s not just its technological capabilities that have led to DC BLOX’s growth. The company also prides itself on its integration with the local community. “The one thing that I know sets us apart, because I hear it all the time, is our community focus,” Uphues emphasises. When we come into a market, we have one vision which is to serve locally and connect globally. That means we're serving local businesses, we’re serving with our time through volunteering, we're serving nonprofits, we're serving the community and understanding their challenges and their needs. We're a part of the fabric of the community when we come in as well as contributing to the technology environment.”
For the industry as a whole, Uphues anticipates the importance of edge computing, where facilities are built close to where they’re needed, to only increase. “For us, the edge is where the application meets the network. Trends like 5G, IoT and gaming mean we need to push compute closer to consumers. That’s going to require more local and regional data centres to handle all the data and best connect it to the network.” As for DC BLOX itself, the focus has been on edge markets and the goal is to increase the pace. “We know that gets harder and harder as you get bigger,” Uphues says, “but we're a company that is doubling revenue every single year and doubling the size of our footprint of where we go. It's a great time to be in the data centre business. It's a great time to be doing this across underserved markets. We can become a strong partner for the community, both in our ability to serve locally and connect globally as DC BLOX continues to expand across the Southeast United States.”