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The building at 6561 Lonewolf Drive all but leaps off its perch at the crest of a hollow, a Jules-Verne-meets-Willie-Wonka-esque meld of sweeping curvilinear planes and jutting angles, defying you to tear your eyes away.
|Global Access Point’s Digital Enterprise Center, located on Lonewolf Drive|
Inside the imaginative realm of the Digital Enterprise Center, there are equally novel initiatives brewing in various stages of development. This world is the perfect embodiment of the inner workings of its creator: Kevin Smith, president of the seminal Global Access Point.
On a gray, icy afternoon in late winter, Smith is explaining his vision for South Bend’s future. Gary Gilot, director of public works for the City of South Bend, joins the discussion.
On paper, the concept behind Global Access Point seems straightforward enough: The organization has three separate locations: the sleek Digital Enterprise Center; the historic Union Station in South Bend; and a facility in Indianapolis. This trio of buildings house data centers, providing physical space, as well as access to global information and digital services through high-speed telecommunications services. Both the Union Station and Indianapolis locations are the only two “carrier hotels” in the state of Indiana.
|Interior of Global Access Point’s Digital Enterprise Center|
What's a carrier hotel?
It is a specific type of data center that allows multiple telecommunications carrier-level customers to share network, server, storage and facilities and connects them to a variety of service providers. The shared costs allow each customer to receive such services at an affordable rate, and at the same time relieves them of the need to maintain internal IT staff, offering additional cost savings that can be quite significant.
Rapidly changing demands
The reality, Smith explains, is considerably more complex.
“A data center always has to morph,” he says. “The data center that we think of as ‘premier’ now won’t be in five years. The ones that were built in 2001 are unacceptable by now. As demands for power density continue to rise rapidly, the successful data centers are going to be the ones that can recast themselves to meet changing demands.
“The pace of the change itself is accelerating,” he adds. “Nothing is static.”
While it is important for data centers to actively respond to the change, “you have to keep in mind that you don’t drive change; you merely respond to it,” he says.
“The places that are going to be able to accommodate that velocity of change have to be broad, supported and understood by community,” he says. “What you have is the connectivity redefining itself, as the power is redefining itself. What won’t change is the centers’ dependence on the ready availability and affordability of energy. These centers use megawatts of energy.”
|Historic Union Station is the site of Global Access Point’s other data center facilities in South Bend.|
A community’s survival will hinge on its ability to be entrepreneurial and nimble, Smith says.
“The question is, how do you create an environment where entrepreneurs like Kevin can be successful?” Gilot says. “Part of the answer is to provide fast allocation of resources to be able to outcompete other innovations. If you wait a year or two, you may well find that the decision has been taken out of your hands.
“Innovation is how we’re going to grow jobs,” he adds. “Big manufacturing companies that used to employ large workforces are gone, and they’re not coming back. It’s the small entrepreneurs who are driving the economy. By the exceptionally good fortune of our proximity to fiber and low power costs, we are a great location to make the transformation from old-style manufacturing to creative technologies.”
Smith concurs. “The good news is that we have all the right potential elements at our disposal here in South Bend,” he says. “It’s important to understand how to bring those elements together into creative, effective interrelationships. And, it’s crucial to create an environment that’s going to nurture the idea people. That’s where growth will occur.”