Growing a Sustainable Data Center Business in Challenging Times

Nov. 4, 2020
Rick Crutchley, Vice President and General Manager of Iron Mountain Data Centers North America explores how the industry can thrive in uncertain times.

Rick Crutchley, Vice President and General Manager of Iron Mountain Data Centers North America explores how the industry can thrive in uncertain times.

Rick Crutchley, Vice President and General Manager of Iron Mountain Data Centers North America

There’s no doubt that the current pandemic has affected every business in some way. Many of those changes have brought extreme challenges for organizations, from reductions in the supply chain to closings to moving to a remote workforce.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for the data center industry, too. Like others, we’ve had to move quickly to make decisions to protect our customers, employees and partners while continuing to provide consistent service. We’re adapting to meet increased demand and embracing new ways to support our customers.

Yet along with these challenges has also come opportunity to grow in innovative and sustainable ways. Though change isn’t easy, focusing on these six key things can help build a foundation for growth, even in unusual times.

Rising to the Challenge: A 6-Point Plan

1. Take care of your people.

First and foremost, take care of your employees. They are the source of your strength and the foundation of your business. If you want great customers, you need to have great employees – and you must take care of both.

When the pandemic hit, we quickly moved most of our team to working remotely, yet we still had frontline folks who had to come to work each day. We asked ourselves: How do we make sure that they know we care about them and that we will do whatever is necessary and possible to keep them and their family safe? Communication is a key factor in making sure we know what our employees need – and that we can, and will, respond to those needs.

Like others in the industry, we have developed strict safety protocols to protect our employees and our customers, such as minimizing the number of people onsite with split shifts, segregating teams to avoid contamination, providing timed customer entry and more. Things that seemed simple like cleaning more frequently in common areas are important to balance with flexibility for our customers. I am very proud of how our teams manage this with our partners and customers.

2. Keep your customers at the center of everything

Our customers are the core of everything we do, and in these challenging times, some of their needs have changed. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to take time to listen to their needs and provide assistance when possible.

More of our customers have needed additional smart hands services as they move to more remote work. Our highly skilled on-site technicians have assisted our customers with a broad range of services in order to meet their needs and growth.

It’s easy sometimes to feel like you know all the answers because you have been in the industry a long time. But you can’t forget that you should always be focused on the customer, and really listening and understanding their needs.  When you have a full understanding of their needs, you will be able to customize a solution and execute against it.

If you do that, you’ll not only satisfy your customer, but you’ll win more customers in the future.

3. Maintain communication

One of the most important things we have done this year is increase our communication with our customers and solicit feedback. We’ve sent out several surveys asking, “Are you getting what you need? What do you think of the protocols we’re implementing?”

We’ve had good participation on the surveys, and the feedback that we received was that they were happy with the protocols that we were putting in place, as well as the level of communication. We have tried to over-communicate by communicating verbally, sending emails, posting the protocols on our portal, and posting them throughout the facilities.

One of the challenges was balancing the staggered times that customers can enter the facility with the time we needed to clean that area. We solicited feedback from our customers and got excellent feedback on the best time windows for them, as well as feedback on our process to make an exception request.

Developing and implementing these protocols is an opportunity for us to collaborate in a new way not only with our internal team, but also with our customers. The pandemic has forced all our functions — security operations, sales, account management, finance and accounting — to work even more seamlessly and collaboratively than before.

4. Anticipate customer needs

These days, anticipating customer demand is more important than ever. The pandemic has prompted urgent demand for operators in North America and across the globe and accelerated the need for IT      infrastructure to enable digital transformation.

The public safety and stay-at-home orders led to significant immediate demand for extra bandwidth and connectivity for e-commerce and other consumer usage including the rapid adoption to the cloud. Our work and personal lives moved online.

More people are working remotely, leveraging  video conferencing. The number of daily Zoom meetings soared from 10 million a day in December 2019 to 200 million daily Zoom meetings by March. Children are attending school online, and we have more gaming and video streaming, driving the digital economy.

All of these technologies rely on data center infrastructure, resilience and redundancy – and that demand has continued.

The pipeline is robust. All Data Center REITs that have capacity and have demonstrated the ability to perform are benefiting. I read in a recent CBRE report, that data centers have been one of the best-performing assets in the global REIT market this year, providing returns of 17.6% as of June 30, 2020. The report also stated that data centers were deemed an essential business in the U.S., and continued operations with limited to no disruption since the start of the global pandemic.’

5. Build a global portfolio in the right markets

Part of anticipating customer needs means building a global data center portfolio in the right markets. Many data center providers like Iron Mountain can be found in the top 20 to 25 markets in places like Virginia and Phoenix in the U.S., as well as international hubs like Singapore, London and Amsterdam.

But you will also find us in smaller markets like Denver, Kansas City and Boston. As the need for Edge computing grows, customer needs change, whether it’s disaster recovery or business continuity.

The data center industry is a 30-billion-dollar market, with the U.S. accounting for a little bit more than a third of that. Data centers provide power and network infrastructure to customers representing a diverse range of companies from financial services, corporate enterprises to healthcare and government – and the industry is growing more than 15 percent per year.

Many federal, state and local governments still have the vast majority of their data centers in-house, many of which need both modernization and expansion. These organizations are bearing capital costs. They are keeping pace with growing data volumes and re-allocating those dollars to investing and growth in their core competency.

As government leaders grow wise to the tradeoffs, more data centers will migrate to the cloud and demand for multi-tenant and cloud data centers like ours will grow.

6. Work for a Greener Future

As our industry grows, so does the demand for power. It’s important for all companies to think about how to deal with this fact. How do we ensure that we’re taking care of our planet?

How do we work together to make sure that our industry is responsible as it pertains to the growth of this data explosion? How can we ensure that data centers will continue to be essential in this digital economy?

At Iron Mountain, we’re committed to helping create a greener grid for everyone. Not only are our data centers powered by 100 percent renewable energy, but we’re working to make renewable energy options more accessible for others too. With our Green Power Pass program, the first solution of its kind in the data center industry, our customers can offset their carbon footprint and get credit for doing so through renewable energy certificates (REC’s).

We recently received the RE100 Leadership Award for Most Impactful Pioneer. It’s great recognition for the work that our energy team has done, but it also recognizes the work that we have done to help not just Iron Mountain, but the data industry as a whole move toward more sustainable solutions.

Creating a greener grid is not only good for the environment, it’s good for our customers, our business and the future of our planet.

Rick Crutchley is Vice President and General Manager of Iron Mountain Data Centers North America.

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