Deep Dive, <a>John Hall, Managing Director, Colocation – Proximity </a>Data Centres

Deep Dive, John Hall, Managing Director, Colocation – Proximity Data Centres

John Hall, Managing Director, Colocation – Proximity Data Centres

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement in the data centre industry?

Setting up Proximity two years ago to focus on the Edge colocation market and seeing it scale rapidly and successfully. It’s a really exciting time to be developing and cornering a new area of the data centre market – low latency, scalable data centres bringing data closer to users and supporting next-generation applications and services.

The data centre market is going through significant changes from enterprise to hyperscale (including hybrid private/public cloud) to Edge. In addition, layering on services such as private 5G for specific applications in verticals, such as manufacturing and healthcare which all need a secure Edge data centre environment. The data centre market is probably more dynamic now than it ever has been. It’s a challenge but a hugely enjoyable one.

What first made you consider a career in technology/data centres?

I have been in the technology, telecoms and IT outsourcing industry for a long time – it’s ever-changing and data centres are an essential pillar of the industry as well as at the heart of keeping our digital economy ticking. My career experience includes sales, marketing, commercial and investment roles, spanning major corporates including Cable and Wireless where I was Customer Director for Global Markets and as Group Sales and Marketing Director of a venture capital-funded hosting and IT outsourcing company. Here I was responsible for leading initial investment in the data centre market and early entry into the hybrid cloud sector.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

I am hands-on but fully recognise the importance and value of delegating responsibility to my team across all departments, empowering them with the appropriate levels of authority required to get on and do their jobs to the very best of their ability.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

I try to keep a good balance in life – it’s a matter of working hard but importantly finding time for activities outside of Proximity. For me, I really enjoy sailing as I need to focus 100% on the boat, the sea and the weather so I don’t have time to think about work. I also find that spending time with my family helps me to unwind particularly as this year I became a grandparent which I have found is an awful lot more relaxing than being the parent!

What do you think is the current hot talking point within the data centre space?

How to maximise the potential of Edge Computing, 5G, IoT, AI and immersive technologies such as virtual reality and Augmented Reality. This all requires reduced latency which is driving the move to interconnected Edge regional data centres. These can rapidly provision and scale compute and storage resources exactly where they’re needed. They are designed to bridge the gap between centralised data centres/clouds and the users, computers, machines and devices at the network Edge.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

On the one hand, global data centre infrastructure is largely being driven by hyperscale public cloud provider organisations such as Microsoft, AWS and Google and the other tech giants. These require huge amounts of data centre space, power and cooling.

At the same time, enterprise businesses are realising the cost, productivity and security benefits of moving their IT workloads off their premises – ether in part or entirely – into regional colocation data centres for running their IT and hosting private cloud or hybrid cloud solutions. And with this development, a new category of Edge colocation data centre is also rapidly emerging for supporting Edge Computing. Highly connected, they are located close to major conurbations in proximity to highly populated areas. Not only do they greatly reduce network latency, bandwidth congestion and data transit costs by being physically closer to users and customers, the financial burden of operating in-house facilities is removed.

What are the region-specific challenges you encounter in your role?

My role is to maximise the opportunity for Proximity Data Centres by responding quickly to demand from businesses, cloud providers, CDNs and HPC users for lower latency and reduced backhaul costs. To achieve this, I am focused, along with my team, on creating a network of strategically located Edge data centres throughout the UK. And ensuring these are physically close enough to high-speed fibre network infrastructure. This is key.

For a country the size of the UK, identifying data centres in the right places may appear relatively straightforward compared to say, Canada or the US – we are a small landmass and the physical distances involved between large conurbations and cities are relatively small by comparison. However, the devil is in the detail when it comes to getting data closer to the majority of the UK’s businesses and consumers. Outside of the London metro area, easily the most densely populated area with around 9.4 million, there are still around 57 million citizens to reach. Unlike in London, these are dispersed unevenly throughout the UK. Furthermore, the working population has grown to be more productive working from home due to the pandemic. People are moving out of expensive cities to work in semi-rural areas.

On the network side, consideration also must be given to the number of hops and where on the network a site will be situated – these factors impact on its suitability to meet specific latency use cases. Access to local Internet exchanges and public cloud infrastructure via gateways are further factors.

The impact of real estate/labour costs is of course another important consideration in terms of data centre location decisions, along with the availability of skilled on-site engineers.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the coming months?

In just two years, we have acquired, repurposed and commenced operation of 10 regional Edge colocation data centres. Our target is to have a total of 18-20 such facilities in place within the next 18 months. Our goal is to have a network of regional Edge colocation data centres within 15 miles of 95% of the UK population, including those in the more neglected regions of the UK who would otherwise continue to be disadvantaged.

Over the coming months I will therefore continue to identify and respond to potential acquisition targets – ensuring the finance is in place at the right time. And ensure that high calibre engineering and operational personnel are available to run our new sites to Proximity’s high standards. 

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