QTS Data Centers: Pillars of Innovation
As a data center operator, we are at the epicenter of the transition from the analog world to the digital world and, therefore, have a unique perspective on this phenomenon. The pace of change and the associated demands of the marketplace mean that QTS must constantly innovate on behalf of our customers to deliver scalable, resilient and transparent services.
The following article will take you along a journey that QTS embarked on five years ago. It illustrates a remarkable business transformation led by a commitment to innovation - for QTS and our customers.
In 2015, digitization was growing exponentially and globally. Content creation was happening at an incalculable pace resulting in data-driven networking ecosystems all around us. Brick and mortar businesses were transforming to digital enterprises delivering digitized services that came with new IT requirements for connectivity, power, data center capacity and sustainability.
The flood of data was also creating opportunities for new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and predictive analytics (PA) to drive evolving digitized business models. At the same time, the largest hyperscale businesses were purchasing capacity, power and connectivity at enormous scale. Federal, State and Local governments would not be far behind. The one constant was the ever-increasing rate of data creation which in turn increased the requirement to develop even larger, more sophisticated technology stacks to store, compute, analyze and move the data.
At QTS we knew we recognized we were at the center of all of this and that traditional thinking on “ping, power, pipe” would not suffice. The digital world was accelerating, becoming more complex and while we had massive physical infrastructure to support it we decided there was a whole lot more we could do.
Disrupt or be Disrupted
It was then that QTS’ Board of Directors led by Chad Williams, Chief Executive Officer, made a series of strategic decisions on what the market was going to require from a data center operator to serve the emerging global digital economy. We committed to focus and expand upon four key pillars of innovation that we recognized were becoming differentiators for our customers and disruptors in the marketplace. We knew these to be true then and we would meet the market on its own terms when it was ready.
- Develop transformative digitization and software
- Create a next generation, risk-adjusted connectivity ecosystem
- Commit to establishing a leadership position in sustainability
- Deliver unprecedented (and measurable) customer service
Today, all four pillars are central to our business and proven differentiators as validated by the industry, our customers, partners and Wall Street.
Develop transformative digitization and software
In 2015, the data tsunami was creating challenges and opportunities across industries. As a leading data center provider QTS faced a fundamental, yet critical, business decision. QTS committed to becoming the first data center company to embrace and invest in a fully digitized, API-driven Service Delivery Platform (SDP) engineered to help enterprise, hyperscale and government organizations view, manage and optimize their data center environments with ease.
We were tasked with the creation of the SDP that essentially involved establishing an agile software company within QTS. By fully digitizing our data centers SDP would apply AI, ML and PA to empower customers to interact with their data and QTS services by providing real-time visibility, access and dynamic control of critical metrics across compute and store environments from a single platform.
Along the way, we deployed machine learning models allowing capacity planning and prediction indicators to help increase customer availability. We extended our Application Programming Interfaces (API’s), allowing customers and partners to embed QTS into their own planning and provisioning applications making QTS part of their operations workflows.
And, in a first for our industry, we have published our open-source API definitions creating an open standard available to the industry, partners and customers to collaborate to further data center efficiency.
Today, SDP has a significant presence in every new customer evaluation of QTS. With more than 17,000 active users across a base of 1,200+ customers, SDP is delivering performance improvements, operational savings and new business innovation that are at the heart of any IT investment.
Create next-generation, risk-adjusted connectivity ecosystem
While the world’s largest hyperscale companies were already purchasing space, power and connectivity at enormous scale, large enterprise and government organizations were starting to ask, “How do I balance the ever-increasing complexity of compute, storage, connectivity with service delivery to end users with long-term growth? How do I meet the demands and expectations of our customers across multiple platforms and geographies in a way that is scalable and does not introduce risk?”
On one hand, large enterprise businesses need scalable, core IT infrastructure, but the new digital economy also requires risk-adjusted access to a myriad of networks that serve their end users. This requires a long-term view, particularly when it comes to data center space, power and access to critical in-building connectivity ecosystems similar to today’s hyperscale strategy and purchasing model.
The large enterprise and government organizations now require a data center with a similar long view of space, power, and sophisticated, risk adjusted connectivity ecosystems. Conventional approaches of using carrier hotels and single network ecosystem providers are not built to serve this new dynamic technically or economically.
And as those organizations spend more on larger, more sophisticated infrastructure, they will require equally credible risk-adjusted network access to ensure service delivery and customer experience. We are seeing large enterprise and government organizations beginning to recognize where their markets are heading and they are planning digital infrastructure and network strategies accordingly.
QTS is in a unique position to serve this evolving dynamic. We have mega scale data centers in all the major markets with millions of square feet and hundreds of megawatts of power available. We are also unique in our commitment to provide and grow risk-adjusted connectivity ecosystems in these same buildings. This translates to a combination of mega infrastructure with access and connectivity to the world’s largest cloud providers, the world’s largest IP networks, network access points, fiber providers, diverse transport paths and subsea cables.
Advocating for Internet resiliency
QTS is also a vocal advocate for diversification of core Internet infrastructure. Along with Vint Cerf, co-founder of the Internet, QTS is a co-founder of the Internet Ecosystem Infrastructure Committee (IEIC) whose goal is to educate and advocate on the need for reducing business risk by strengthening and diversifying the Internet beyond the precarious single building hubs that currently serve as key points of Internet interconnection.
On a recent IEIC virtual panel discussion, Cerf contended there is a lack of awareness of these vulnerabilities that must be addressed globally before the core Internet architecture experiences a major failure either organically or manmade. He equated climate change and Coronavirus as very relevant examples that put unplanned strain that we need to be more proactive about preparing for.
Diversification is happening and is taking shape in the form of QTS’ new international Network Access Points (NAPs) being established in places like Richmond, VA., Hillsboro, OR., and Piscataway, N.J. where data centers are now connecting with subsea cables creating new levels of Internet resiliency.
Leading the way in diversification efforts are hyperscalers like Facebook and Microsoft. With concentrated network access in the New York area, these powerhouses recognized the need for alternate network routes and sought out a NAP as an alternative. In their case, they chose Richmond for its access to the new MAREA and BRUSA subsea cables.
“Establishing a new access point for international data transmission protects companies when something does go wrong with one cable,” said Facebook Vice President of Network Engineering, Najam Ahmad, during a QTS panel discussion on the need for more Internet network access points (NAPs). “Our philosophy is that if anything fails, nobody should have to move a muscle or do anything – everything should [still] work,” he said.
Commit to establishing a leadership position in sustainability
With the massive increases in digitized data came a corresponding increase in power required for an industry already under scrutiny as one of the worlds’ largest consumers of energy.
When QTS decided to take on the challenge of sustainability, we committed to provide total transparency and public disclosure for employees, our customers, and our shareholders. After listening to customer feedback and conducting industry research, QTS announced measurable and impactful goals to help us move toward minimizing our data center carbon footprint.
- Procure 100% of our power from renewable energy sources by 2025.
- Pursue green building certifications in 90% of facilities by 2025.
- Conserve at least 15 million gallons of water per year.
- Install EV charging stations at 75% of our facilities by 2025.
- Recycle 90% of QTS’ operational waste by 2025.
We implemented a materiality approach to sustainability, focusing on transparency, renewable energy leadership, and ongoing measurement and improvement - all backed by continuous innovation. Further details around our beliefs and goals are documented in our second annual Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) report.
Today more than 30% of QTS’ portfolio-wide data center power requirements are sourced from renewable energy representing over 300 million kilowatt-hours of renewable power. Seven of our data centers are running on 100% renewable power. According to the EPA, this makes QTS one of the largest users of green power among all data center companies and the 12th largest user among Top Tech & Telecom companies.
In terms of innovation for sustainability, QTS developed and signed the industry’s first intermediation structured renewable procurement model that has since become our go-to strategy. While many companies would keep this approach as trade-secret information, QTS shares this knowledge for the greater good. One of our largest competitors recently signed a very large procurement deal that uses this exact same model. Ultimately, this strategy creates impactful, cost effective power purchase agreements that advance the renewable market forward.
We invented Water FREEdom, the industry’s first true zero-water cooling solution powered by 100% renewable energy making these data centers some of the most water-efficient data centers in the world.
We created an application for SDP that provides real-time visibility, allowing customers to see their power usage and energy mix, green building design certifications, and relate this to their environmental impact.
Our leadership team works closely with utilities and organizations to develop legislation that makes it easier and more cost effective for everyone to procure renewable energy. We are an active member of the EPA Green Power Partnership, are on the REBA policy board, the Data Center Coalition’s energy committee, are a member of the RE100 and we are ranked by GRESB as the #1 data center company for ESG initiatives globally.
Deliver an unprecedented (and measureable) customer experience
Since the company’s inception, Chad has instilled a culture of service committed to a high touch, collaborative approach. Today, QTS is a dedicated community of IT professionals who seamlessly collaborate and partner with our customers to achieve success in their business goals.
Across our entire service portfolio, operations leadership assesses key indicators such as service availability, customer renewal rate, response times, survey results, and information from quarterly business reviews. Each becomes a feedback channel with its own set of goals and metrics for improvements.
QTS’ Powered by People culture and world-class service organization have led to sustained excellence in customer service. To benchmark our performance, we leverage the Net Promoter Score (NPS), an ongoing independent survey of our customer base that has become the leading indicator of customer service across industries.
2019 marked the fourth consecutive year QTS has led the data center industry with an NPS score over 80. QTS’ target of 80 or higher is in line with NPS scores of companies well known for their customer service including Starbucks Corporation and Apple Inc. and is approximately double the average NPS score (42) for data center companies.
Technological innovation plays a key role in our customer’s experience. SDP is enabling new levels of visibility, control and innovation in how customers interact with their data contributing to even higher levels of satisfaction. It enables remote provisioning of services such as cloud connectivity, remote management of services, and can monitor bandwidth usage and power capacity thresholds and be alerted before there is any impact. It also represents another feedback loop carefully analyzed for customer experience improvements.
This was particularly apparent following the COVID-19 pandemic as average session time on the SDP platform doubled compared the year prior. QTS reported significant increases in use of remote access capabilities including provisioning of multi-cloud and site-to-site connectivity and real-time bandwidth management, viewing and managing real-time power utilization, full visibility of customers’ inventory of assets within the data center and executing online ordering.
It all comes back to data and innovation for our customers
In an industry not generally known for innovation, QTS is confident, and our customers are telling us through surveys and feedback channels that our focus on key areas innovation are truly differentiating. That innovation is driven by our increasing capabilities in leveraging massive amounts of data to the benefit of our customers and our bottom line.
We know we are on track as evidenced by the company’s consistent financial performance and positive feedback we have been receiving across the industry from our customers, partners, analysts and Wall Street.
Frost & Sullivan recently chose QTS as the recipient of its Global Visionary Innovation Leadership Award. Following a five-month independent vetting process of 34 companies, QTS, who is not a Frost & Sullivan client, was chosen as the winner of the global award.
According to Frost & Sullivan “… QTS’ visionary innovation in the data center industry is nothing short of remarkable and is without a doubt a boon to the end users. The level of passion and dedication the company has towards enhancing client value and customer experience is certainly astounding. It not only excels at technology and innovation, but also leads the way in customer service.”
The award report (accessed here) highlights QTS’s key characteristics and areas of innovation that that contributing to its selection.
Check out what others are saying below:
Digitization and Software
Wall Street and the industry at large have taken notice of QTS’ Service Delivery Platform. Raymond James Financial recently published an Industry Brief titled Data Maps and Killer Apps (released June 2020) that surveyed the platforms of three global data center operators and noted:
“While all three platforms have the ability to track and report common data, the ease of use of the systems was quite different. Only QTS had the entire system wrapped up into an app that was available across multiple desktop, tablet, and mobile platforms, complete with 3D imaging and simple graphics that outlined the situation visually down to an individual rack within a cabinet. QTS' system also has video capability using facial recognition to detect and identify employees and contractors separately, highlight an open cabinet door and other potential hazards inside the customers cage, and it is all either real time or on a recorded basis to highlight potential errors and problems. Live heat maps allow customers to see the areas with potential and existing performance issues and to see outages in real time and track down problems. As far as features and functionality, QTS SDP system was the clear winner.”
Frost & Sullivan noted, “Before diving into the details of SDP and the phenomenal value addition it brings to the end user, it is imperative to state the fact that SDP is not another DCIM tool-set. It cannot even be compared with the most advanced DCIM solutions available in the market, as SDP brings so much more to the table than such DCIM offerings.”
- You are showing things that have been on my clients’ wish list for quite some time…. mostly what they get from your competitors is a very limited subset of what you’ve just shown.”
- Gartner, Vice President, Infrastructure Strategies Group
- Gartner, Vice President, Infrastructure Strategies Group
- “You have cemented yourselves as the provider that is pushing the boundaries in development and service delivery.It’s clear you are more than just a colo provider.”
- Gartner, VP, Technology Service Provider Group
- "Software automation and API-driven orchestration open new possibilities for IT service delivery including simpler controls and better data transparency. QTS' Service Deliver Platform (SDP) is emblematic of an open approach ideally applied across the industry to automate the next generation of IT services."
- Craig Matsumoto, senior analyst, 451 Research.
- “SDP allowed us to review over and under-subscribed cabinets in real-time enabling us to shift infrastructure or increase our density.”
- IT Director (Industry Leading Alternative Energy and Transportation Provider)
Next generation connectivity ecosystem
Frost & Sullivan noted, “QTS’s effort to diversify this internet concentration is truly commendable. The company took it upon itself to not only educate the industry, but also to implement strategies that would bring about a positive disruption and create a step change in the internet connectivity world.”
Adding… “It is only fitting to say that QTS is a torch bearer when it comes to addressing this connectivity predicament. With its pioneering vision, the company has created multiple network access points (NAPs); which are essentially data centers acting as ubiquitous global interconnection hubs that allow services utilizing subsea cables to peer and interconnect in an ideal manner.”
QTS’ innovative Green Power Procurement Model caught they eye of one of the most influential energy market associations in the country. Jim Richardson, President of the North American Energy Market Association noted, “As a leading proponent of renewable energy, we believe QTS’ Green Power Procurement model is the standard by which all others should be judged. QTS’ highly innovative approach is forward-looking, problem-solving, new market deal-making”, adding “this should be required learning and inspiration for all of our members!”
“World class customer service! QTS consistently provides outstanding customer service. From account management to contract negotiations to compliance auditing, QTS is always on-point and responsive.”
Director of IT Operations in the Services Industry
“The success of our business is dependent on a high-density, hybrid colocation hosting environment required for graphics processing unit (GPU) intensive applications living in the cloud. Performance, speed, and reliability are critical, but just as important is QTS’ collaborative customer support system that we rely on every day. Their leading NPS score is warranted by their unrelenting focus on ensuring customer success. They are a strategic member of our IT team and we look forward to a long term partnership.”
Co-founder, cloud-based gaming company
*** This is first in a series of articles on QTS’ innovation initiative called Collaborate. Innovate (C.I.). For more information, check out our C.I. website here.