Q&A with Digital Realty’s Chris Coleman: Boston is a Great Edge Market, But Barriers Persist

BOSTON, MA — Chris Coleman currently leads Digital Realty’s Enterprise Strategic Accounts group across North America. His team focuses on worldwide data center needs for technology, software, financial, and healthcare companies.  He joined the company in January of 2011. Chris has over 20  years of management and sales experience in the data center industry. He spent thirteen years at American Power Conversion (APC) where he held a variety of positions, including Director of Government Sales and Director of Enterprise Business in Europe. Before Digital Realty, Chris was Vice President of New England for SunGard focusing on disaster recovery, managed services, and consulting services. CapRE caught up with Chris in anticipation of our Second Annual Greater Boston & New England Data Center Summit on June 19, and below we highlight some of Coleman’s insight into the Boston market as well as the wider industry.

CapRE: Thank you for chatting with us Chris. What have you been up to lately?

Chris Coleman, Vice-President – Enterprise Sector, North America, Digital Realty

Coleman: A lot of my team’s time is spent with enterprise clients who are struggling with older data centers that can be inefficient, not properly sized, and often not cloud ready. We just try to help them develop a data center strategy that will meet their needs for a 3 to 7-year horizon. It has always been expensive to build or move a data center, and now with cloud growth and other initiatives it is more difficult for an enterprise to get board-level approval that is usually needed. You just have to be a good partner and provide consistent support and service.

CapRE: What strategies do you employ to solve those problems?

Coleman: I don’t know if there is one-size-fits-all solution. I think it depends on the client’s drivers. Whether its new business initiatives, re-platforming, or reducing costs that are driving them to some kind of hybrid cloud solution, I think it starts with a discussion around their current status. Where are they in terms of overall capacity, facility age, and does it meet their current needs? What are the connections they really need to make in order to make their infrastructure work properly? How is their network set up today?

From there, we consider all of that as well as model current TCO, to figure out the current state. And then, through our Solution Architect team, we figure out, is there a combination — because I think it has to be a combination — of cost-savings, accelerating speed, and other factors to enable our customers to meet the company’s specific goals? The challenge in the data center world has been that it is naturally, more of a long-term, slow-moving solution. You are building something with a 15-20 year lifecycle. And many times, clients are faced with, I have to get something up and running in the next six months, so how do I do it? And for us, it’s about, how do you enable them to meet their business needs?

CapRE: Interesting. Let’s talk about Boston and New England. What are your thoughts on that market?

Coleman Boston has a lot of tech companies, start-ups, healthcare, and medical research organizations. It’s a vibrant community that drives a lot of technology and data center needs, whether in the Boston market or across the U.S. or around the world. You see bio-med companies in Cambridge with research facilities globally that create just a ton of data.

data center summitI think that, specific to a data center solution that sits in the Boston market, there are challenges. This is a relatively high-cost market considering real estate, construction, and especially electricity. This has really developed the Boston data center market into a couple of areas. There are some large enterprise workloads that sit in this market. There are workloads that have to sit in this market, like healthcare and health information and patient data. Some of the research that might be latency-sensitive might still sit here. And Boston is a great edge market for content given the regional population.

CapRE: Interesting. So what are you most looking forward to about our upcoming Boston and New England Data Center Summit?

Coleman: From a personal standpoint, I looked at the list of speakers over the weekend and I have worked closely with a lot of them. So I’m looking forward to getting re-connected with colleagues. This market has a lot of people who have great experience and are recognized globally as thought leaders in the data center space. So I think there is a lot that can be learned from the professionals that we have in this market, that we can apply worldwide.

CapRE: What are you most excited about in the data center industry as a whole?

Coleman: I am most excited about how enterprises are utilizing or thinking about utilizing AI. Many enterprise clients have been seeing decreasing overall data center needs through more efficient tech stacks and some workloads migrating to the cloud. We are seeing some really cool AI projects that could just mean explosive opportunities for the data center industry. It’s not just the things you hear about with autonomous vehicles. It’s retail. It’s healthcare. It’s affecting all industries and it’s still really early. If you look in Boston, there are financials such as Fidelity and State Street and healthcare providers like Nuance with heavy focus on AI and how it can best help their industries.

CapRE: Please share with us a trend or two that you’ve seen over the last year or so.

Coleman: The discussion is also a lot more focused on connectivity and how to enable connection to their customers, partners, public clouds, and SaaS companies. I think that enterprises even with the data privacy and security concerns, are getting more comfortable with their data and their technology not being right next to them. That “server-hugger” mentality is becoming a thing of the past. The tools to enable an enterprise to locate their data center almost anywhere have advanced.

A couple of years ago, we were talking with several companies that said, “No. It absolutely has to be right here.” They are now saying, “Well if there are better connectivity solutions out there and lower TCO then I’m open to looking at different areas where this data center should sit.” Which is, to me, in a market like this, a threat.

CapRE: Can you share some more on why that is a threat?

Coleman: Because our total cost of ownership in data centers here in this market is high. It’s primarily driven by power costs. There have been different things in the Boston market, in attempts to help drive down power costs, with new gas lines and bringing power from Québec into New England, but things haven’t gotten off the ground. There’s been too much pushback locally on that sort of thing. So it’s really kept our power pricing just about the highest of major markets.

For the Boston market, we need to figure out how the data center industry can offer the best value to our clients. That probably includes additional services, compliance, security, and connectivity to overcome some of our cost challenges.

CapRE: Valuable information, Chris. Thanks again for your time, and we’ll see you in Boston.