American Tower has purchased Atlanta-based Colo Atl, a provider of enterprise and carrier-neutral colocation, interconnection and data center services.
Timothy A. Kiser, a licensed professional engineer in 35 states, founded Colo Atl in 2001. Today, the company’s colocation and Meet Me Room (MMR) space spans 1,470 square feet on the 5th Floor and 16,034 square feet on the 8th Floor in a carrier hotel, 55 Marietta Street.
The carrier-neutral collocation space was developed to allow tenants to cross-connect within the space, allowing companies to establish a presence to network with other carriers within the building via two vertical fiber risers, and to connect with companies in 56 Marietta Street via two diverse 432 count fibers between the 55 and 56 Marietta Street Buildings.
The Col Atl purchase won’t move the needle on American Tower’s bottom line, but it shows a newfound interest in diversification at the major tower company.
“American Tower declared that it wanted to diversify its revenue base beyond towers,” said Vertical Bridge CEO and Co-founder Alex Gellman. “They have in-building and venues, but they have made two moves now. They bought a billboard company in the Boston area a few months ago to explore that industry. Now they are buying a data center company to gain an understanding of that industry. These are guys are very methodical, diligent, thorough people. They buy these small companies, operate them and figure out the insides of how they work to see if they can scale it up.”
Digital Bridge Also into Data Centers
It’s not the first news that has broken about diversification by the comm-infra space into the data center business. Digital Bridge entered the enterprise-class data center business by acquiring DataBank in July 2016. DataBank then quickly made two acquisitions, buying select 365 Data Center assets in Pittsburgh and Cleveland and picking up Utah-based C7, which owns and operates three facilities in Salt Lake City.
DataBank has expanded its footprint from six data centers in three markets to 15 data centers in eight markets, while also significantly boosting its product capabilities in managed services, security, and compliance. Today, DataBank is headquartered in downtown Dallas and has additional data centers in North Dallas, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Baltimore and Kansas City. Digital bridge has invested nearly $2 billion in the sector.
Micro Data Centers at the Tower
In 2017, Vertical Bridge announced that it was partnering with its sister company DataBank, a Dallas-based data center provider, to develop micro data centers (MDC) that would host edge computing at the base of cell towers.
The two companies’ parent corporation, Digital Bridge, publicly announced the plan to enter data centers back in 2014.
“We see micro data centers as part of the major convergence that is taking place,” said Bernard Borghei, executive vice president of operations and co-founder of Vertical Bridge. “Time was needed for technology to catch up, and the carriers needed to understand the benefits of this approach.”
Edge Computing Use Cases
Why do the wireless carriers want edge computing? There are many reasons to put a data center at the base of a tower and many more that haven’t been thought up yet. Tailored content could be stored in the MDC for the geographic area that it is serving. NetFlix could push its most popular movies to the edge. Time-sensitive connected/autonomous car applications could be placed near “smart corridors” of rush hour traffic.
Data Center Knowledge, an industry publication, reports that AT&T is looking at MDCs to support a variety of applications such as data analytics using information from industrial sensors devices like virtual reality headsets.
While much smaller than a typical data center, an MDC allows computing to be pushed to the edge of the network and nearer the user, similar to the relationship of a small cell to a macrocell tower.
“When you reduce the distance and introduce localize computing, you reduce the amount of computer processing at farther distances away and the time traveled to get the data from the wireless device through the backbone network, to the Internet and back. That is how a micro data center allows you to achieve that speed and ultra-low latency,” Borghei said.
What is a Micro Data Center?
Basically, an MDC is a room full of computer servers, possibly 20 feet by 20 feet, and no taller than an equipment shelter. Along with the space, a tower company would need power for the equipment and the HVAC system and adequate fiber access. As with towers, the siting of an MDC depends on the network design, geographic location and surrounding population.