Originally posted on DartPoints

Scott Willis, DartPoints President and CEO, discusses how he started his career, the evolution of the industry and the edge, and DartPoints mission to transform digital ecosystems in growing markets.

Rapidly increasing streaming and two-way video services, 5G and the future promise of IoT continue to drive up bandwidth needs and put pressure on latency in growing markets across the country. The DartPoints strategy is making progress in addressing inferior service performance in select markets with sufficient demand to drive investment, colocation, interconnection, edge content and peering. These markets signal to the wider industry what is possible and where opportunity is driving digital ecosystem transformation.

Q:  How did you first end up working in the world of data centers?

A:  If you look at my background or my profile, I’ve been in communications since I came out of school. So, I’ve been blessed and just excited about being part of this industry. And that started back in the mid 80s. But if you really think about how this industry has evolved from that time, and where it’s going, it has made tremendous strides, collectively as a communications industry. As I look forward, I think we’re even on the cusp of what is going to be greater change. And that’s what keeps it exciting.

You know, in particular with data centers, I did have some experience with it back in the late 90s, early 2000s for a few years, but really, if you think about the DartPoints model and what we do, it’s defining what is edge. Edge means a lot of things to a lot of different people. A part of my goal of our conversation today is I want to articulate what edge means to DartPoints, how we look at edge and what [challenges] are we solving.

You think about the environment within our industry and the pivot from a digital distribution architecture perspective that we’re embracing as an industry and that is what we’re doing at DartPoints. We are looking to define our strategy and edge and our vision of edge and how we’re going to deploy into the growing markets that I described earlier. I don’t see it so much as a pure play data center background kind of play. I see it more as a collective experience of really what my background is in terms of telecommunications, wireline and wireless. I have deployed a lot of fiber and I’ve deployed a lot of wireless networks. It definitely is easy to see the data center as a whole, as a separate entity, but it’s obviously part of that digital infrastructure you talked about. There’s a lot that goes into the data center and there’s a lot that comes out.

Q: What does edge mean to you, is there a specific phrase or terminology that you use when you’re describing?

A: We still refer to it as edge. Others who have heard me say this, and I’ll repeat it, if you line up five people you’re going to get seven or eight different definitions. And that’s okay. That’s a wonderful thing for our industry because it creates opportunity. And certainly from DartPoints’ perspective, [the common definition] really is less than what we are delivering. What we’re attempting to build is not anything that the communities that we’re deploying into cannot achieve today. However, for them to achieve it [without DartPoints], they have to reasonably expect an inferior performance solution and they have to expect a higher cost point.

If I’m in eastern Iowa, which is where we recently deployed, and I want to participate in an ecosystem of interconnected peering, whether I’m a school system or whether I’m a local enterprise, something in a cloud environment that I desire to participate in. Well, I have to either backhaul all the way to Chicago or I’ve got to backhaul down to Dallas. And I’ve got to pay a cost for that.

What we want to deliver is that capability in eastern Iowa where it’s local, and where the request is local. It’s processed and it’s delivered locally, but yet they can still have access to either the larger, broader US market, or even globally. We can do that and deliver a far superior performance at a lower cost point because they don’t have to deal with transport and latency issues associated with connecting back into those markets.

When you couple that with many of these future use cases that are becoming more and more visible, whether it’s agricultural, telemedicine, biotech applications, autonomous vehicles, gaming, etc. The list goes on and on and all of that requires latency-driven infrastructure that can support that demand. That’s what DartPoints is participating in and we’re excited about it. It’s bringing capabilities into markets that are clearly growing today, and doing it in an optimal and a cost effective way. That is really what the DartPoints model is all about.

Q: From a customer perspective, with the impact of COVID in all regions you’re seeing people are moving away from the cities and are working in their houses, etc. Have you seen customers come to DartPoints to get demand now for more local sourcing?

A: The way that I look at this is because I’m still very measured, because edge is evolving, we’re still very much evolving and emerging in terms of at least the DartPoints definition of edge. We are a demand-driven model, we’re not putting capital to work on spec. We’re demand driven.

In many ways, it has accelerated the need for the model we’re discussing. So from that perspective, I think people recognize the need for edge. We’re no longer just looking at some wishful future, latency-sensitive use cases that everybody likes to talk about that may have been a few years away. They are really prevalent in the market. I think COVID has accelerated the acceptance that edge is needed, but clearly from a customer perspective, it’s still measured.

People still want to understand what’s the real value proposition of me as a consumer, whether it be an enterprise, whether it be the private sector or whether it be the carriers, content, CDN, etc. All of these [are] customer segments DartPoints is targeting.

I think the acceptance and the need is well understood for the model. But we’re still evolving through and maturing from an edge definition or an edge value proposition. What that really means, and I think that’s a cycle that will continue through 2021 certainly and into 2022, to me it’s a matter of not convincing the market around the advantages of edge. But how do you define and really deploy to optimize the value proposition for the market or the consumer that you’re delivering edge solutions into.  That’s the piece that we continue to evolve and innovate. We continue to be very aware of how we need to evolve our thinking, to be able to support and ultimately deliver the value that the customer is demanding, at a price point that is acceptable to the market, and that will always continue to be something. I think over the next 18 to 24 months that will be on the forefront of what we do every day.

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