The NTT Americas Global Data Center Hypergrowth Journey
Doug Adams, President and CEO of NTT Global Data Centers Americas. (Photo: NTT GDCA)
The growth of the Internet has transformed the global economy, changing the way we buy, learn and do business. This growth has also been transformative for companies building the internet.
In the case of NTT Global Data Centers Americas (GDCA), it all started with a single data center in Sacramento operated by RagingWire. The company now operates 1.5 million square feet of data center space across seven US campuses, with an additional 3 million square feet under development. It is part of NTT Global Data Centers, which is the world’s third largest data center provider with more than 140 data centers around the world.
The construction boom in the United States is the realization of a growth strategy developed by Doug Adams, now president and CEO of NTT GDCA. This vision gained momentum Japanese telecommunications company NTT acquired a majority stake in RagingWire. Adams already saw the IT landscape being transformed by massive global cloud platforms, and NTT’s capital strength enabled the RagingWire team to dream bigger.
DCF Editor Rich Miller recently spoke with Adams about the growth of NTT’s data centers. Here is the video of our conversation, made with NTT Global Data Centers Americas:
Rich Miller, Data Center Frontier: I’m here with Doug Adams, the CEO of NTT Global Data Centers Americas. And we talk about the growth of the data center industry and how we’ve known each other for a while.
Doug Adams, President and CEO of NTT GDCA: We didn’t have gray hair when we first met.
Rich Miller: It’s true. Well, I may have had a few, but a lot of things have changed. Obviously, there has been fantastic growth for the industry. You started a while ago with RagingWire in a single data center in Sacramento. Share a bit of what this whole trip has been like and some of the things you’ve seen change.
Doug Adams: We started almost 22 years ago. And when we started, there wasn’t really an industry at first. I was responsible for sales and marketing. We were entrepreneurs, so we were a lot of hats. And one of the hats I wore was operations, believe it or not. So I was available for sales, marketing and operations, which I know is a very unusual combination.
When we started, as you said, we were in Sacramento and had only one location. We branched out with a facility here in Ashburn, Virginia. And that was really the starting point for the explosion of business. Fast forward to 2013. We had a successful transaction where we sold 80% of the business to NTT. Eventually we sold the remaining 20% and that was really the inflection point of our business.
We have grown from our Sacramento and Virginia facilities to opening a facility in Texas. After that, we opened facilities in Chicago and Hillsboro, Silicon Valley and Phenix. So that capital and that life force that we got from NTT was really what caused the hypergrowth journey that we’ve been on for the last five years.
Rich Miller: Some of the changes in the industry have not only been related to growth and being in more places, with bigger data centers and more capital. Part of it really is that customers themselves have changed, and the way you serve them has led to strategic changes in how you build and operate a data center. Tell me a bit about how you tried to adapt the organization to accommodate this change.
Doug Adams: We have constantly changed and been very nimble as an organization. One of the ways we run our business is that every year we review the business and reallocate our assets based on where we think the business is growing. Early on, we developed the attitude that if we were to succeed, we would really need to listen to our customers and do what they expected of us.
When I look at our evolution as a company, we really started in retail (colocation) and then quickly moved to Enterprise and then came the “dot com” movement, when you started to see all the online retail with Amazon and the various hyperscalers started to emerge. Frankly, we took a step back because we were a brick and mortar company, and the players that were focused on hyperscalers and the internet digital economy started growing faster than us.
We brought in some amazing staff who understood and had experience working in the hyperscale market. We have standardized our product. We have standardized our supply chain. We made all these moves. We bought land in the right markets and transformed into a more hyperscale/enterprise-centric company. That was really the turning point for us. And of course the acquisition by NTT and getting that capital to grow the business was the real turning points for us.
Rich Miller: One of the things I always like to look at is the data center itself, as a prism, because it always tells you something about the business and how companies approach it. The design you used has changed a lot over the past 5-10 years. Tell me a bit about how data centers are built and designed has evolved.
Doug Adams: So we’re sitting in our VA3 facility in Ashburn, Virginia. I think it’s one of our finest facilities. I love this facility, and we built it when we really weren’t very well known and didn’t have a strong brand level. So we tried to reinforce the fact that we were a great company and to reinforce our brand image by building absolutely magnificent facilities.
And I think we succeeded, especially with this ease. People thought of us as one of the biggest and most important players, even though maybe we weren’t at the time. We are now. We are part of the world’s third largest data center footprint. NTT is now a power in the field of data centers.
We always build beautiful data centers, and they are very practical and designed for large enterprises and hyperscalers. We have loading docks that can accommodate 10ft racks, things that are more relevant for this hyperscale and enterprise customer. These are 36 megawatt building blocks.
The new design is highly fungible. We take a pre-engineered building and while we’re building it, we have a factory that creates our electrical and mechanical modules, and then we fuse them together. So if we want to speed up our construction in Portland and slow down our construction in Virginia, we can do that. All of our construction is accelerated. This fungibility is great. But we are exploding everywhere, in all our markets.
Rich Miller: This brings me back to one of the things that has really changed with the data center market. In 2000 when you started, a small team could start building something that could grow over time. In today’s data center business, scale really matters, both in terms of investment and capital. In this regard, how has the relationship with NTT helped you build a data center company capable of serving a wide range of some of the largest customers in the world?
Doug Adams: NTT has incredible regional breadth. Customers can now come to us and we can meet their data center needs. We have divisions that manage private clouds. We may provide them with security services or managed services. There is a whole set of features, products and solutions that we can offer our customers.
Thus, our customers can sign an MSA (Master Service Agreement) or an SLA (Service Level Agreement) and have an infrastructure in Frankfurt, Tokyo, London, Ashburn, Dallas, Texas with a single contract. It’s like pushing the easy button, so it makes things a lot easier for them.
On top of that, NTT is one of the top 50 companies in the world with an annual revenue of over $100 billion. So that triple-A credit rating and access to capital allows us to service the biggest companies, allows us to acquire land, allows us to build these big campuses quickly. It’s really transformed to change the business in a way that, frankly, I hadn’t seen 10 years ago.
Rich Miller: You talked about how you wear a lot of different hats and have had a lot of different experiences. One aspect of your journey is that you have taken on more and more responsibility. How did you envision the leadership process itself and how did you try to lead this business and work with the people who are executing the mission?
Doug Adams: My thinking and my point of view have matured a lot. In the beginning, I really focused on standardized design and the supply chain. Over the past 10 years, I’ve come to realize that the main differentiator for us and each of our competitors is truly people and people. It all starts with the employees, and if you do a good job there, there will be a great customer experience.
I think a lot of people do the opposite and try to focus on the customer experience without caring about their employees. I believe that creating a strong service culture is important to running a business. It took us a while to do it, but we did it, and I think it shows in our products and services.
Rich Miller: There have been many changes over the last 10 years and the last 20 years. It’s been quite a trip. I appreciate you sharing your story with us because it has been interesting. And we’ll have to see where things go from here. Who knows what the future holds for the data center?
Doug Adams: I’m super excited. I think this industry will continue to grow and get stronger over the next ten years.
Rich Miller: Then we can do it again.
Doug Adams: Yeah, that will be fun. We should schedule this now.