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COLT DCS: Hyperscaling the Future

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Niclas Sanfridsson has been CEO of Colt Data Centre Services for just over six months. Jason McGee-Abe spoke to him to discover how he as settled into the role amid the Covid-19 lockdown and the company's ambitious plans to double its business in just two years.

“It’s certainly been an interesting first six months in the role,” Sanfridsson immediately admits. And it would be, especially when one thinks that he has spent half his time at Colt DCS working remotely from his London home. “It has been a little tough as I haven’t been able to connect with the team face-to-face and do site visits, but I was lucky enough to have three months to meet people in person and get to know them.”

Sanfridsson started his tenure at the beginning of December after Detlef Spang retired. Spang led the business from its inception as an operationally independent business from the Colt network business in 2015. The company’s focus and drive have not changed and Sanfridsson has a crystal-like focus: To continue driving the hyperscale footprint of the business as the organisation continues to expand in both new and existing markets.

“It only took me a couple of weeks to truly understand the business from within,” he tells me. “It’s always essential when joining a new business to assess and ensure that the right team is in place. I realised very quickly that we already had the right team, so I haven’t needed to make any changes to this very committed team. I’m very committed to them as well.”

Colt DCS has been in the news frequently over the past year with an array of announcements and new facilities. The CEO says that it was “a steep learning curve to quickly get my head around all these ongoing projects”, but since then it’s been business as usual.

So how does this business compare to his previous companies? “My role at Equinix was very much focused on the Nordic region, so being able to work on a global scale with Colt DCS is new but an exciting opportunity,” he responds. “We are backed by a very strong owner, so we don’t have any issues raising capital for the approved projects that we want to do. Our growth plans are forecasting that we will double our business by 2023. That trend is going to continue according to our aggressive growth plans, our focus, and our strong client base. ” All these were big attractions for why Sanfridsson joined the business, he tells me, adding: “It only took me a couple of weeks to feel almost surprised with just how good this company and the knowledge within the business was as well. I was amazed by this and knew we have the right team in place.”

Hyperscale Power

So how is the CEO, who has been in the data centre business for the past 25 years, continuing to lead Colt DCS’s hyperscale growth strategy? Sanfridsson says that it remains the primary focus of the business and the main customer demands evolve around hyperscale today. “We build hyperscale sites, anchored by customers with high quality contracts in markets with large population centres and increasing consumption rates of cloud and content-based applications. This includes both hyperscalers and large enterprises,” he states. What is very clear to see is that Colt DCS works and collaborates very closely with its customers, whose respective strategies are engrained in the DNA of Colt DCS’s own mission and strategy.

There has been an extreme focus for many to migrate towards cloud-based services in the current climate. “There isn’t a Board out there whose not asking their management team what their backup plans are if this lockdown situation was to happen again and how to deal with this,” the CEO says. “Although many cloud-based services are reporting extensive surges in business, we’ve seen this trend for quite some time. It’s just shifting even faster right now. The retail data centre market has also seen more and more medium-sized enterprises shifting towards hybrid or multi-cloud services. As a business we have clearly positioned ourselves to support these market shifts.”

The deal sizes growing is another clear trend that is evident, explains Sanfridsson, “where we’ve moved from 100KW deals to 10MW, 15MW, 20MW site offers in the market”. It’s not just the deal size, he adds, but consumers also want and expect things to be delivered at a much faster rate today also.

Given the current Covid-19 climate, keeping on track of the new builds and expansions is a key priority for the CEO, ensuring they are on budget and on time. “It’s working surprisingly well at the moment,” says Sanfridsson. “In almost all of the countries we’re in, our sites are viewed as critical so the sites have been kept open. Even though caps on the number of staff at certain facilities has been implemented, our customer service and delivery has not been impacted, which is critical. We’ve been relying more on our local teams, who have really stepped up and have done a great job.”

There are many exciting projects at Colt DCS, from the current expansion of four new halls at the London 3 Welwyn Garden City facility to the new 25.2MW build in Frankfurt and the 27MW expansion to the inside campus of its Tokyo Inzai 3 data centre.

The conversation moves towards India, where the CEO is very proud to tell me about the ground-breaking Mumbai facility that will not only be its biggest data centre to date but could

hit over 100MW. Not only is this a huge point of focus as it is a vast new-build facility, in a new market, but India has had rather strict lockdown rules implemented during the Covid-19 crisis.

“It’s made it a little trickier to manage but our contingency plans have been effective and the deliverables of the project are more or less on time, I’m pleased to say,” he adds. The Indian market, not just Mumbai, is booming and is certainly one of the markets that Sanfridsson has his eye on.

Where else is he looking at? “For me, we assess where the real uptakes in cloud consumption are and monitor internet exchanges to see if the traffic is big enough for a hyperscaler

and for us to move in. This makes it more somewhat risk-free knowing that the demand is clearly there,” says Sanfridsson.

“However, this all rides on whether our customers want to expand somewhere and what their plans are.”

APAC Focus

The Asia-Pacific market has clearly been a key focus for Colt DCS over the years and as I speak with Sanfridsson, the company has just announced the appointment of a new vice president and head of APAC: Hiroshige Sugihara. The announcement came in line with its commitment to hyperscale builds and expansion within the region.

“We’re extremely happy that Hiroshige has joined us,” says Sanfridsson. “We’ve been looking to fill this position for some time but have found the right person to fill it. Hiroshige will lead our operations in APAC to reach new heights.” Sugihara moves into the role having held previous executive leadership positions, including senior vice president, chief of staff, international of Oracle Corporation and chairman of the Board, president and CEO of Oracle Japan. He joins the team during an evident period of strong growth and amid the company’s hyperscale expansion, especially in the APAC region.

Colt DCS is very committed to this region and to its strong client base. “As long as they want to continue to expand, we’re going to continue to build,” he says.

“We’re always looking at potential new sites, how we can enhance our facilities, and landbanking opportunities to continue to expand.” Sanfridsson believes landbanking is essentially an art form today and is a very important component and skillset that his team has.

Sustainability & The Future

One of the core strategic points of focus for any boardroom today, especially within the data centre industry, is sustainability. “This is a very important topic of course, whether you look at water consumption, sustainable green energy and being more power efficient,” Sanfridsson explains. “It’s important to look at the whole construction piece of a data centre, which is about lifecycle management and getting the data centre as efficient as possible, so you don’t oversupply things or have to constantly replace things.”

The CEO admits that it is much harder to transform older data centres and there’s only so much you can do to enhance things, such as more cooling efficiencies. The real opportunity, however, is with new builds. Sustainability is addressed from the very beginning at the planning and design stage. “We’re actively and constantly looking at this in our plans, which could include projects such as adding solar panels in a green field next to a data centre, which will cater for some of the power usage,” he says.

People mean different things when they say green, adds Sanfridsson: “You could just buy 100% green renewable energy, which in some markets don’t even have premiums. Some countries require you to pay that premium and we’re committed to do that. That process has already started and we do have a target of seeing how we can move towards 100% sustainability. We’re always looking at efficiency measures of a data centre and how we can find alternative power sources.”

In Sanfridsson, Colt DCS has found a charismatic leader with exceptional experience and a thirst to help guide the company exponentially grow and globally. “It’s going to be a fantastic journey, which I’m really excited to be on,” he tells Capacity.

A truly perfect fit for a business with vast growth plans that is forecasting to double its business by 2023. We predict big things! Watch this space! 

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