OpenColo: Striving for the best data centre experience

OpenColo: Striving for the best data centre experience

Customer service is at the heart of boutique data centre provider OpenColo’s mission to deliver industry-leading customer experiences

Small enough to care, but large enough to deliver. That is the motto that boutique data centre service provider OpenColo lives by, and the company ensures that this guiding principle shines through in every aspect of its operations.

Their smaller footprint means that they are able to provide excellent customer service as a number one priority. “We strive to provide the best possible customer experience when providing customer service and support to our customers,” says Jonathan Bitran, OpenColo’s Chief Operating Officer. “As we were a tenant at other data centres prior to owning our own, we took a closer look at what we liked and disliked when we needed support or service. That helped us build the best possible customer experience team.” 

Before OpenColo, the company launched in 2003 as a host of Counter Strike gaming servers under the name At this time, eighteen years ago, bandwidth cost around $350 a Mbps. Discussing the origins of the company, OpenColo’s Chief Executive Officer, Sally Simkiss, reflects: “Getting started during the fallout from the dot com crash, we were determined to grow and spend in a very disciplined way. For this reason - and because of our desire to remain completely independent - we have never taken VC money and have always grown organically over the years.”

In the beginning, OpenColo relied on other companies’ data centres for its business operations. “For the first 15 years, EGI operated out of multiple third party data centres. We found ourselves frustrated with corporate data centres’ inflexibility as well as opaque and overly complicated billing.  It was hard to rapidly grow without signing long-term contacts that could prove risky for a small company like ours,” Simkiss explained. 

However, with corporate data centres increasingly feeling like a bad fit, OpenColo’s owners decided it was time to take operations into their own hands. “Our founders decided that to best control our business and pricing, and meet our customers’ growing needs, we should own and operate our own data centre,” Simkiss said. 

Turning this idea into reality, though, was no small task. EGI spent four years looking for the ideal location for its new facility. By the end of 2019, the company completed the design and build process of its very own site, a boutique data centre located in Santa Clara, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. That data centre operates under the brand OpenColo.

The facility was born from the conversion of a 71,000 sq ft logistics centre which, once fully transformed, housed the data centre itself and company offices. Explaining why Santa Clara was chosen for the location, Simkiss said that it was “ideal in that the power comes from Silicon Valley Power (SVP), which is the most reliable and least expensive power in California.  Additionally, our corner of Santa Clara is one of the most fibre-dense locations in the country, with dark fibre from and to almost every major provider. After experiencing the frustration of trying to find collocation in the area ourselves, we set up the data centre with flexibility foremost in our minds.”

What is a boutique data centre and how does OpenColo differ from major providers?

OpenColo and its services are not the same as other major data centre and colocation providers. Discussing what differentiates the company from other major organisations in the industry, James Chen, VP of Sales Engineering, explained: “Around us in Santa Clara are a dozen or so other data centres, so we need to differentiate ourselves from them. As a result, we’re extremely responsive and interested in our customer’s success.” 

Simkiss noted that OpenColo is a “little unusual” in that it does not have any one target customer.  “We have small streaming customers that pay a few dollars a month as well as large enterprise corporations with sizable colocation footprints in our space.  Every customer gets superior customer service.  We designed our data centre for maximum flexibility in order to serve the needs of any customer,” she said.

“While there is more and more consolidation of data centre properties in the Valley, we are one of the only, if not the only, independent data centres left in the area.  In a field that is dominated by “Big Tech,” we are highly responsive and personal.  When you tour our facility, you will do so with one of the owners,” Simkiss added. 

“As a privately-owned company, we are not beholden to shareholders who demand ever-increasing revenue and profits. We are able to offer custom solutions and terms the big guys would never consider. Since I give many of the tours of the facility, I’ve become familiar with all of our customers. When they succeed and grow, we are also able to grow and succeed,” she said. 

Power delivery and the N+1 cooling system

As essential as industry-leading customer service is to OpenColo's value proposition, so too is running its facilities to world-class standards of power management and cooling. Here too, explains Brookshire, the company is taking a boutique approach.

“When we first looked at the power plant design of OpenColo, it was clear to us that we had to design things with maintainability in mind. Since OpenColo is our flagship location, we decided to design the power plant with 2N redundancy.

“We understand the importance of being able to offer 100% power uptime SLA and what that means for our reputation and for customers’ confidence entrusting us with their critical infrastructure,” he continues, adding that setting a very high safety standard for OpenColo’s staff, customers, and vendors has also been a top priority for the company. ”We designed a busway power system that allows us to provide power upgrades without long waits and costly set-up charges,” he explains. 

As for the cooling plan, OpenColo implemented N+1 cooling for its first build-out phase, Pod 1.  “Like the power design, this solution allows us to rotate off units to perform critical maintenance without risk of thermal runaway.  We also needed a system that would continue to deliver lower PUE value as we scale up,” Brookshire said.

Outlook for the future and company partners

SVP is one of OpenColo’s partners and provides the power for its data centre facility.  “In addition to providing the power for the facility, we work with them to select the blend of renewable power sources for our customers. These power sources can vary from wind, solar, and hydroelectric power and can help customers with meeting their renewable power initiatives,” said James Chen, commenting on how OpenColo collaborates with Silicon Valley Power.

Looking to the next twelve to eighteen months, OpenColo’s next major project will be building out its Pod 2 facility, which will be either for their own use or in partnership with a larger enterprise customer looking for a fully custom design.

“We are also implementing platforms for improved customer experience, including a new website and streamlined ordering system with instantly deployed bare metal dedicated servers for EGIHosting. Next on the horizon are updated audio and video streaming offerings,” Simkiss explained. 

She points out that OpenColo’s vision for the future, however, will see the company staying true to its values, commenting: “That said, we aren’t trying to offer every new service, disrupt anything or change the world.  We are focused on what we know and do best - running a first-rate, reliable, and secure data centre and providing collocation and bare metal servers.” It looks as though the future of OpenColo, a small, yet very capable data centre provider from California, is going to be very, very bright indeed.