CAPRE’s Mid-Atlantic Data Center Summit Preview: Vantage’s Steve Conner Says Speed-to-Market May Be the Differentiator

LEESBURG, VA — Steve Conner serves as the Vice-President of Sales and Solutions Engineering at Vantage Data Centers. He is responsible for supporting the company’s sales team on technical requirements in pursuit of new business. Conner has more than 25 years of experience in building and leading highly motivated sales and engineering teams. Prior to Vantage, Conner led the sales and engineering teams at Cloudistics, taking the start-up’s revenue from $0 to more than $5 million in its first year of selling. Before Cloudistics, Conner held multiple senior level positions at Nutanix where he successfully built a multi-million dollar business unit focused on managed service providers. Conner will be a featured speaker at CAPRE’s upcoming Mid-Atlantic Data Center & Cloud Infrastructure Summit, so we connected with him to chat about Vantage’s latest activity in Northern Virginia as well as his thoughts on what’s coming next in the industry.

CAPRE: Thanks for talking to us today, Steve. What’s the latest at Vantage?

Steve Conner, Vice-President for Sales and Engineering Solutions, Vantage Data Centers

Conner: We’re excited about opening the next phase of our Ashburn campus. We had our grand opening back in May with the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and we have another 8 megawatts scheduled to come online later this month.

CAPRE: What are you looking forward to about CAPRE’s Mid-Atlantic Data Center Summit? What do you think insiders will be talking about?

Conner: A lot of people are going to be talking about the current situation with the market itself. The entire Northern Virginia market has seen somewhat of a slowdown as it pertains to wholesale, hyperscale opportunities. That will likely be a big topic of conversation onstage, and if not there, then definitely in the hallways. Last year was the best year Virginia had ever seen as it pertains to MW takedown. So, everyone feels there’s a bit of capacity digestion taking place right now.

CAPRE: What strategies is Vantage employing to power through a potential lull?

Conner: Technically, we’re working on our designs to make things a lot more modular and increase our speed to market.  We’ve been looking at modularity and different ways to streamline the entire build process, including bringing customers into the facilities. We’re going to continue, not only in Northern Virginia, but around the country, to focus on that increased modularity and scale. We are seeing similar approaches with other players in the market, and it just makes the build process regarding wholesale easier.

In addition, I think the period of absorption goes beyond Virginia. It’ll be interesting to see how the data center owners and operators ultimately react to the lull. Everyone has capacity or is bringing capacity online. We’ll see how the balance of supply and demand plays out. Timing is a big factor, but no one has a crystal ball.

CAPRE: What other markets is Vantage excited about?

Conner: We’re seeing a lot of traction in the Canadian market. Vantage entered that market earlier this year with the acquisition of 4Degrees. That enabled us to enter into Québec City and Montreal, and we’re excited about both of those markets. We’re always looking at new opportunities in multiple markets, but of the current portfolio, that’s one where we’re supper exited.

Geographically, if you look at Vantage’s presence across North America, we’re really expanding in all our key markets. In Santa Clara, we’re well underway with our second campus. Our first facility is 100% leased with a single tenant, and we’re working on the second facility on that campus. We’re also expanding in Ashburn with another 8 MW, which will be online later this month. We have new buildings and new developments in Phoenix, AZ and Quincy, WA, and as we discussed before, we’re seeing the most excitement around Montréal and Québec City.

CAPRE: So, what are your customers looking for? What are they calling you about?

Conner: We’re seeing a lot more requirements around high-performance computing and higher density applications, as well as sustainability. If you look at our Ashburn campus, there are a variety of green features in place, which are in alignment with our customers’ goals to be responsible corporate citizens. For example, we have a solar tree, EV charging stations, as well as wind and solar lights.

A lot of the focus at Vantage remains on design consistency, making sure that if a customer is in a data center in Virginia, and another is in Montréal, they have similar experiences.

CAPRE: Tell us about the density requirements. How is that changing the data center conversation?

Conner: We’re seeing more customers take a greater look at how much they’re trying to put into their cabinets. That’s driving the need for advanced cooling techniques. Our customers are moving past the abilities of traditional air cooling, and we are now being asked to look more at fluids and how they integrate into the data center. This is pushing the envelope and forcing us to think about different ways to design data centers that will support water to the rack, water to the chip, and ultimately, complete immersion. We’re starting to get more and more conversations bubbling around those types of topics.

CAPRE: Is Vantage deploying other disruptive technologies in terms of DCIM, such as AI or IoT?

Conner: We’re seeing our customers deploy architectures that integrate AI. In the data center, many of the apps associated with mission-critical data center operations are still somewhat new. So, AI in data center operations is still in its early stages. Will it happen? I think so. But it’s going to take standardization across the data formats, and then people will have to take that standardization and build the AI engines that will help machines make those deterministic decisions.

Our customers are using it all over the place though. There’s a lot of advanced tech where customers are deploying various types of deep learning and machine learning in their deployments, which is driving that density.

CAPRE: Let’s go back to Northern Virginia. What’s the latest on the ground there? How is the market changing?

Conner: When you look at Virginia as a whole, not just as Northern VA, some of the changing dynamics that will keep Ashburn at the forefront is the continued introduction and expansion of sub-sea cables at Virginia Beach. A lot of the fiber providers are putting in long haul transit lanes from Virginia Beach to Ashburn. That’s pretty exciting because no longer do we have to route through New York to get to Europe. We can just do a quick skip to Virginia Beach. That’s nothing but good for Virginia.

CAPRE: And what about in terms of regulation or zoning? How is development in Loudoun County evolving?

Conner: From a zoning standpoint, in Loudoun County specifically, we’re excited that they’ve relaxed the height ordinances on buildings. They now allow data center providers to take buildings up, past three stories. Land values are increasing so much, and by giving us flexibility on the height of the building, it puts us back at market cost parity. And the availability of land is always in the conversation – land is becoming increasingly scarce. Data Center Alley is now expanding into Manassas and Leesburg.

CAPRE: What about in terms of infrastructure? What’s the latest in the region?

Conner: We’re also starting to run out of right of ways for fiber. People are having to install in the medians. However, the fiber teams are taking steps to put in more conduits, and Loudoun County is, fortunately, addressing it. So that is a problem, but it’s also turning into an upside, because we’re putting more conduits in the medians to address that issue, which is a good thing.

CAPRE: Got it. Thanks for your insight. We’ll see you in Leesburg on September 10!

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