Data Centers: Where we come from, where we are and where we go tomorrow

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By Ali Greenwood

All of us are constantly utilizing technology, whether it’s depositing checks with your bank’s smartphone app, taking pictures of your kiddos, cat videos, Insta-stories, sending emails, or streaming your favorite movie or tv series.  All of these things touch a server in a data center somewhere. Technology and the data center industry are growing like crazy, and I consider myself fortunate to be right in the thick of it.

To give you a better understanding of how we as data center professionals get involved in the industry, I’d like to share my journey, where I came from, where we are today, and where I hope we go tomorrow.

I started my career at a small real estate investment and development company in DFW.  After several years, a friend of the principals approached our firm about a data center in NY he wanted to acquire. It would be the first data center venture for their newly formed company, and they wanted our firm to assist them in raising capital.

At the time, I was an analyst underwriting development opportunities. I quickly had to learn what in the world a data center was, how much it was going to cost to build, to lease, and what kind of returns one could expect on a data center investment.  I met with many experts in the data center business, and was certainly intrigued.

I eventually started working at Digital Realty a couple months later in their portfolio management group.  This was such an incredibly invaluable approach to understanding the data center business. It allowed me to truly focus on the data center itself, the required investment, ongoing operating expenses, leasing and how it all effects the ultimate return to stockholders. I believe it helped shape my personal value proposition to clients today. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

After a few years, I decide to continue my goal to learn all sides of the industry and shifted my focus to the sales side.  I felt that I had a good understanding behind the scenes, and thought I was well-prepared to articulately translate to potential customers why they should select us as their data center provider.  I enjoyed the sales side of the business, and loved the opportunity to work with customers on their requirements.

Then, I began meeting with tenant rep data center brokers that I knew were the best in the business to drum up some additional opportunities, and through that process, I found an exciting new personal career opportunity with JLL.

JLL had a dedicated data center practice group, and in my opinion, the best!  The sale was different. I would no longer be selling a product, but the value I could add by assisting clients find the best solution for their specific needs. It’s such a fun and rewarding career. I love helping clients find the best fit for their requirements, and more importantly, I love being able to leverage all the tools I’ve picked up along my journey to provide the most value to the process. I absolutely love my job, and I enjoy each opportunity to work on new and challenging projects on behalf of my clients.

Now, there aren’t many women in the data center industry today, but I believe that to be an opportunity, not a challenge. I would love to see more women pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career paths. There are many recent studies and articles on this subject – it’s certainly an underserved area.  These are excellent career paths that yield high paying jobs.  Technology is not going anywhere, it’s growing like crazy, and therefore so our data centers.

Those of us in the industry could all do a better job of speaking up and making women of all ages aware of an exciting and growing opportunity.  The technology industry is growing so quickly; we need the talent pool grow.

I have a daughter on the way, and what will quickly become one of my biggest jobs is making sure she is confident, assertive, and driven to work hard. Growth and comfort do not coexist. Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.

Someone much smarter and with much more “work-life balance” experience under her belt told me once, “There’s no such thing as work life balance. There is no balance. Something will always take priority, and the faster you accept that, and focus on when to prioritize what, the faster you will find a happier chaos”. “Happier chaos” I think is the key. I love my job, I love working hard, it’s a huge part of my life, and honestly, so much of who I am.

Juggling it all is crazy.  As the saying goes, “at the end of the day it is not the years in my life, but the life in my years” that will define me. It truly is all about spending time with those you love.

So, find your value proposition, as soon as possible. If you do not feel that you’re insanely invaluable, then you should promptly change paths. The world is full of challenges and issues that desperately need to or want to be solved, endeavor to always find your niche, your passion, your stride.

As the famous Zig Ziglar said “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” If you can’t define quickly how you can help people get what they want, then push reset and figure it out, then get back in the game.

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