I heard many months ago that there was a new data center owner/operator setting up shop at 1101 Space Park Drive in Santa Clara… a location already saturated with data centers and where one can literally throw a stone in a mile radius any direction and hit a DRT, Equinix, Layer42 or Level3 facility.
My first thought was that some new wealthy commercial real estate guy was likely involved and going to learn the hard way that the data center business is NOT as easy as simply throwing a few generators and UPS’s in a building, dragging some fiber in and calling it a data center. It was thus to my surprise (and delight to be honest) to find out that 2 of the primary principles behind the operation, known as COLOVORE, were in fact data center operations engineers themselves.
This fact, coupled by the statements they make on their website regarding 20 kW/rack power density, was enough to make me extremely interested… so I quickly reached out and set up a tour. My usual 100 questions were asked to see if these guys actually knew what they were doing… and in short, I’m still very impressed. Below are a few of the most relevant Q’s and A’s that went down both during and post my visit with President and Co-Founder Sean Holzknecht.
Sean Patrick Tario (SPT): First off, I have to ask, where did the name Colovore come from?
Sean Holzknecht (SH): I wish we had one of those cool stories that was the result of a wild night out or the inspiration of a desert sunrise, or something along those lines, but it’s really very pedestrian. This was early days, Peter Harrison (CTO & Co-Founder) and I were sitting at my dining room table working on the business plan. As we were winding down for the day, we started yet another brainstorming session in search of a strong, aggressive brand for what we felt was a strong and aggressive product offering in the Colocation/Data Center space. As if on cue, my oldest son Luke (2 yrs. old at the time) ran in with his toy dinosaur, roaring and threatening to eat us up. Peter said something to the effect of: “well I take it your friend is a carnivore”. Luke agreed, but more importantly, Peter turned back to the table and simply said “Carnivore? Colovore!”
SPT: Awesome… and now it makes perfect sense! So… jumping right into the thick of it, on the tour you claimed the facility can deliver 10-40 kW / rack… can you walk me through exactly what you’re doing differently than the other “high density” facilities in the Bay Area that allows you to in fact make this kind of density possible?
SH: Well, just to clarify, we’re doing a multi-phase project here and the initial 2MW phase is designed to support 20kW per cabinet wall to wall, that is, in every cabinet. Phase 2 and beyond, will allow us the capability to support up to 40kW per cabinet, in any cabinet (including phase 1). This is achieved using a highly efficient liquid cooling platform with top of the line commercial grade equipment designed by industry leading thermal engineers and equipment manufactures. To see exactly how we are cooling at these densities, your readership will have to come see for themselves!
SPT: OK, now backing up a bit, one of my favorite questions for entrepreneurs and business owners is how they went from “hey, I think this might be a good idea” to “we need to make this happen, let’s file the paperwork and get working on this full time ASAP!”. To this extent, can you walk me through the early stages of how Colovore became a reality?
SH: Over the past ten years I have witnessed power density’s slowly rising, year after year. Each time a client refreshed their equipment, they could power fewer and fewer rack units of equipment per rack. Within a matter of a few years, seeing half-filled racks became the norm, 4-5kW per rack just wasn’t cutting it. This was enough to trigger the “hey, I think this might be a good idea” response. The tipping point came a few years later when a potential client wanted to deploy 4U blade systems that were fully populated and maxed out on CPU and RAM. The estimated power usage was 4kW per system (per 4U!). A thermal engineer from the hardware manufacturer confirmed the power estimates were accurate. The vision of server racks maxed out on power with just 4U worth of equipment installed was enough to give me the religion. At that point, I knew I had to get into the high density business as soon as possible!
SPT: It’s truly refreshing to hear that the evolution of the technology within the data center is what drove you to jump in the game and not simply the money. Obviously the plan is to fill this initial building as quickly as possible, but are there plans to expand beyond this campus in Santa Clara at some point?
SH: Our initial focus is to get this facility off the ground and filled with lots of happy clients. We have 9MW to grow into, so we have a long runway. At some point we will entertain the thought of expansion. We have the benefit of an exceptional Board of Directors and will rely on their council heavily in decisions like this.
SPT: Outside the density offered within each rack, what else do you feel makes the Colovore value proposition stand out from the dozens of other providers managing facilities within the Bay Area… and right next door?
SH: We approached this business model from the perspective of the IT Managers and Engineers that make the decisions regarding what data center to deploy within because these are the people that end up logging all the hours at the colo. We set out to solve the power density and contiguous space issue, then systematically looked at each of the little things that frustrate colo clients in their day to day interaction (or lack thereof) with their colo provider. We interviewed dozens of IT and Technology professionals in the process, and we learned a lot! Some of the adjustments are subtle, others are unprecedented, and together they create a data center experience that is in tune with today’s end user.
Expanding on this… at Colovore we want our clients to interact directly with their technical peers, Network Engineers and System Administrators, not outsourced receptionist from a security service. We don’t gouge clients on cross connect and remote hands fees. Our invoices are itemized to give IT Managers visibility into their functional IT spend, per department. We are focused on customer amenities, we provide drop-in client co-working space in a relaxed setting, some place clients would actually want to hangout. These are just a few of the highlights.
SPT: Are their limitations to the types of clients or rack configurations you are looking to work with?
SH: No limitations. We have worked closely with hardware manufactures to make sure we are providing the appropriate infrastructure for current and future equipment designs. Anyone who has experienced the limitations and frustration of power density issues in a data center environment is someone we think we can help.
We are not just giving the client the infrastructure configuration they want, and to this extent we are lowering their Total Cost of Ownership. Most clients we speak with can at least consolidate down to half as many racks if they could get the power and cooling density where they are currently. At Colovore you can consolidate and still have power to grow into as you refresh your legacy servers and doing so equates to 20 -30% savings.
SPT: When is the official “launch date” for this facility and do you have any clients you can speak of who have already signed up as “anchor” tenants?
SH: The Colovore Data Center is on schedule to be fully commissioned and operational by mid-December this year. We have been pre-selling space in the facility and giving “hard hat” tours to prospective customers daily for the past month… such as the one we took you on a few days ago. The reception, across the board, has been very encouraging and enthusiastic; so far, everyone who has seen what we’re building here has been favorably impressed. We are not making any announcements regarding client activity though, call me superstitious………..
SPT: What should someone do if they are interested in learning more or getting a quote for power/space within your facility?
SH: We are happy to work with potential clients however they see fit. If they would prefer to work through you to first pre-qualify their requirements before interfacing with the Colovore team, knowing what you do and how you do it I think that is an ideal first step, especially given the specific minimum densities we are looking for from clients. If a client feels they have a solid handle on their requirements and want to get in touch directly, all they need to do is mention that they heard about Colovore through Open Spectrum and we will bend over backwards to assist every way we can.