Which Colocation and Wholesale Data Center Operators in Chicago Are the Most Digitally-Savvy?

Introduction

The data center industry is growing and changing fast. And the Chicago metropolitan area is no exception.

The Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area continues to rank as the third largest metropolitan area in the United States with an estimated 9.5 million population (2017). The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area is the second largest (13.4 million 2017 estimated population), while the New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA Metropolitan Statistical Area (20.3 million 2017 estimated population) is still the most populous region in the United States.

While population density alone doesn’t forecast the health of a data center market, all three of these regions have multiple industries that are very data-intensive, iconic downtown facilities that have housed telecommunications infrastructure for decades, and lots of growth in suburban colocation and wholesale data center development throughout their metropolitan areas.

 

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Company-Specific Changes in the Chicago Data Center Market

 

  • 1547 Realty (fifteenfortyseven Critical Systems Realty) is developing a Tier III data center (Midway Technology Centre) in Chicago’s historic Schulze Baking Company building.
  • AT&T still wants to sell off its data center business including facilities in the Chicago suburbs at 4513 Western Avenue in Lisle and 1000 Commerce Drive in Oak Brook.
  • CyrusOne has, or will shortly have, a third data center building under construction in Aurora.
  • Cyxtera Technologies has closed on the purchase of data center facilities in the region formerly owned by CenturyLink. Its locations in the Chicago metro area now include 350 East Cermak, 4th Floor and 350 East Cermak, 7th Floor in downtown Chicago and 2425 Busse Road in Elk Grove Village. (Note: Elk Grove Village is now considered one of the hottest areas of the region for new data center projects under construction.)
  • Digital Realty has closed on the purchase of DuPont Fabros Technology. This brings its footprint in the Chicago metropolitan area to six facilities in Chicago, Elk Grove VIllage, and Franklin Park.
  • Equinix has closed on the purchase of Verizon’s data center portfolio. Its facilities in the region now include 350 East Cermak Road, 5th Floor, 350 East Cermak Road, 6th Floor, and 350 East Cermak Road, 8th Floor in downtown Chicago, 1905 Lunt Avenue in Elk Grove Village, and 111 Plaza Drive in Westmont.
  • INAP has acquired Chicago-based SingleHop to grow its footprint in managed hosting and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
  • RagingWire is building a data center in Itasca, near O'Hare International Airport.
  • Stream Data Centers is building a data center at 2080 Lunt Avenue in Elk Grove Village.
  • T5 Data Centers is expanding its Elk Grove Village data center that was purchased from Forsythe Technology in 2016.

 

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Regional Macro Factors in the Chicago Metropolitan Area

The Chicago data center market receives lots of attention from industry experts including analysts, journalists, and commercial real estate brokers. Here are a few highlights that seem especially relevant:

  • Chicago is currently the third hottest market in the United States for data center construction. Of the near-400 megawatts (MW) currently under construction worldwide, 60% of that demand resides in North America. Within North America, 34 MW of projects are being built in Chicago -- with Las Vegas/Reno (40 MW) and Toronto (39 MW) leading the pack. (Source: JLL 2018 Data Center Outlook)
  • With 230 MW of data center inventory, Chicago is also the third largest data center market in the United States. Chicago is considered a supply-constrained data center market and has a low vacancy rate of 8.7%. (Source: CBRE Data Center Solutions)
  • Commonwealth Edison, the largest electric utility in Illinois, announced in late 2017 that it’s expanding its Itasca substation specifically to handle massive increases in utility grid demand from new data centers under construction. (Source: Yevgeniy Sverdlik of Data Center Knowledge)
  • The Chicago metropolitan area remains an optimal region to build and operate data centers. There’s a low risk of natural disaster hazards. The colder climate saves money on cooling costs. Plus the Chicago metropolitan area has world-class fiber infrastructure and low utility power costs. (Source: Michael Rareshide of Site Selection Group)
  • Hyperscale cloud providers, such as Microsoft, see Chicago as an edge location. According to Jim Kerrigan, Managing Director at North American Data Centers, Microsoft is under construction with a 30 MW build-to-suit project in the Chicago suburbs. Added Kerrigan, “They could build that in Iowa, but they didn’t. For the cloud guys, the edge is in Chicago.” (Source: Rich Miller of Data Center Frontier)
  • Brennan Investment Group, a Chicago-based real estate investment firm, is developing Elk Grove Technology Park -- specifically focusing on the needs of commerce, digital manufacturing, and data centers. (Source: Brennan Investment Group news release)

 

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Changes in Buyer Behavior

While digital transformation, mobile computing, hyperscale cloud computing, and business continuity have all been great drivers of growth for colocation and wholesale data center operators in the Chicago metropolitan area, many in leadership roles at these companies struggle with an inconsistency that leaves their teams at a severe competitive disadvantage.

Starting with the release of the original iPhone in 2007, the way people research and make purchase decisions changed.

Word of mouth. Cold calls. Cold emails. Interrupting people with obnoxious, self-serving advertising. Direct mail. Print advertising. All of these marketing channels that were mainstays of business development playbooks, literally for decades (1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s), have been called onto the mat. In nearly all cases, these channels have become far less effective and have gotten far more expensive.

Why? People grew tired of interruptions and proved they were willing to pay to get what they wanted (no more, no less), exactly when they wanted it, 100% on their own terms. The empowerment rooted in search engines, social media, mobile devices, and cloud computing has fueled entirely new business models based on selective consumption of information.

People subscribe to streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu -- and use DVRs -- to avoid watching commercials. People subscribe to satellite radio providers like SiriusXM to avoid annoying radio advertising.

What many miss: all of these personal preferences that may start at home don’t just stay at home. These same influencers and decision makers, and all the other stakeholders that purchase data center-related products and services, bring these preferences into the workplace.

 

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The Great Paradox That’s Not Sustainable

Ironically, the data center, mission critical, cloud services, and telecommunications industries have benefited greatly from all of this growth in digital demand. Yet many of those in leadership roles at outsourced data center providers have failed to appreciate how these changes impact demand generation, desired customer experience, differentiation, competitive positioning, and their ability to stave off market disruption.

Technologies like Gmail’s Priority Inbox make it tougher for any commercial email to make it to the Inbox. And do people answer their phones anymore without checking caller ID?

The rules have changed for businesses of all sizes and shapes -- including colocation and wholesale data center providers in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Their clients and potential clients have become accustomed to -- in many cases, addicted would be the more accurate term -- using search engines, social media, and mobile devices to find answers to questions and seek out solutions to problems.

 

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Staying Relevant in a Buyer-Centric World

Regardless of required power, bandwidth, space, or industry-specific needs, this behavior change has completely upended the buyer’s journey -- the active research process someone goes through in between when that person begins searching for answers and when that person becomes a paying client.

In the pre-iPhone era, potential clients reached out to IT companies like colocation and wholesale data center operators for information when they were 10% to 20% of the way through their decision-making process. Those days are long, long gone.

Today, as much as 70% (or more) of their decision may be over before a potential client even reaches out to a colocation or wholesale data center provider.

This change in the decision-making process presents enormous challenges to most data center operators in the Chicago metropolitan area that are stuck in the past, using the same business development, marketing, and sales playbook that they’ve used since the 1980s and 1990s.

But digital transformation also presents enormous market opportunities for digitally-savvy data center providers that can get found by the right influencers and decision makers, in the right places, at the right time, and most of all: in the right context -- to be seen as trusted advisors and educators, rather than just IT vendors.

In the Chicago Data Center Market Opportunity Report, we’ll explore which colocation and wholesale data center operators in the Chicago metropolitan area are the most digitally-savvy -- and doing the best job keeping up.

We’ll unpack this challenge by looking at 51 metrics with regard to how each fares with:

  • Differentiation in the Modern Buyer’s Journey
  • Thought Leadership Strategy and Website Authority
  • Competitive Positioning
  • Company Social Media Presence
  • Lead Generation
  • Paid Search Acceleration
  • Full-Funnel Revenue Growth and Digital Infrastructure

Note: As you review the tables for each metric analyzed, for most metrics with a three column table, the strongest companies appear in the left-hand columns in the tables. The weakest companies appear in the right-hand columns in the tables. For example:

Example Chicago Metropolitan Area Data Center
Full Funnel Revenue Growth

Methodology

To develop the shortlist of who to research, each outsourced data center provider had to meet most, preferably all, of the following criteria:

  • Have at least one multi-tenant data center location in the Chicago metropolitan area. This includes downtown Chicago and western suburban areas from Northbrook to Westmont, and from Aurora to Rosemont (within a one hour’s drive of downtown Chicago, specifically 350 East Cermak Road, to directly compete with colocation and wholesale data center operators in the Chicago metropolitan area).
  • Be principally in the business of selling colocation and wholesale data center services (leasing space), as opposed to primarily selling website hosting, cloud services, or managed services.
  • Use the words "data center" and/or "colocation" in their website Title Tag or above the fold on their website homepage.
  • Have a functional website that displays their physical data center address(es) in the Chicago metropolitan area.
  • Have a separate website page for each data center facility location in the Chicago metropolitan area.
  • Have a LinkedIn company page that employees are attached to.

We ended up with 29 data center operators that have 57 physical data centers. We expect the number of data center operators to contract further, as more mergers are announced and completed in the coming months and years. However, we also expect the number of physical data center locations to expand.

The data centers are located in

  • Arlington Heights, Illinois
  • Aurora, Illinois
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Elk Grove Village, Illinois
  • Franklin Park, Illinois
  • Itasca, Illinois
  • Lisle, Illinois
  • Lombard, Illinois
  • Northbrook, Illinois
  • Oak Brook, Illinois
  • Rosemont, Illinois
  • West Chicago, Illinois
  • Westmont, Illinois
  • Wood Dale, Illinois

While many industry analysts track the size (square footage) and power (MW) in locations, for the Chicago Data Center Market Opportunity Report we simply analyzed the number of facilities in each city/municipality and found the highest concentrations of outsourced colocation and wholesale data centers in the region in two places:

  • 47.4% (27) of the facilities are located in Chicago
  • 17.5% (10) of the facilities are located in Elk Grove Village

In other words, approximately two out of three outsourced colocation and wholesale data center facilities in the Chicago metropolitan area are either in downtown Chicago or Elk Grove Village, about 25 miles northwest of Chicago.

While we don’t believe that these 29 companies represent all of the outsourced data center operators in the Chicago metropolitan area that meet the criteria, we do believe that the companies included are representative of how digitally-savvy data center providers in the Chicago metropolitan area are.

On some metrics, we offer a median or average for that metric immediately before the table that presents how each company fares relative to its competitors.

In many cases, the median number is presented to avoid skewing data due to very large company size differences between some of the smallest and largest data center providers in the region. In other cases, where a massive company size disparity shouldn’t impact more accurate comparisons, a simple average is used.

And in a few cases, the data is normalized relative to the number of employees and presented in both absolute form and on a percentage basis.

Just as a balance sheet is a snapshot in time, the data in this report was gathered during a one week period in April 2018. It’s fully expected that the outsourced data center operators within this report, and others that read this report, will make changes to their websites and broader digital presence.

However given that a few of the companies in this report had let their websites sit stagnant for literally years, there will be some resistors who believe that their clients are different -- and don’t use search engines, social media, or smartphones.

And just to be clear: While we do know stakeholders in various roles at 10 of the 29 data center operators included in this report, none of the data center operators in this report paid for inclusion/sponsorship.

  • 1547 Realty (fifteenfortyseven Critical Systems Realty) (Chicago, Illinois)
  • 360 Technology Center Solutions (Lombard, Illinois)
  • 365 Data Centers (Chicago, Illinois)
  • AT&T (Lisle and Oak Brook, Illinois)
  • Atlantic Metro (Chicago, Illinois)
  • AXON Datacenters (Rosemont, Illinois)
  • ByteGrid (Aurora, Illinois)
  • Cogent Communications (Chicago, Illinois)
  • ColoCrossing (Elk Grove Village, Illinois)
  • CoreSite Realty Corporation (Chicago, Illinois)
  • CyrusOne (Aurora and Lombard, Illinois)
  • Cyxtera Technologies (formerly CenturyLink) (Chicago and Elk Grove Village, Illinois)
  • Digital Realty (Chicago, Elk Grove Village, and Franklin Park, Illinois)
  • EdgeConneX (Elk Grove Village, Illinois)
  • Equinix (Chicago, Elk Grove Village, and Westmont, Illinois)
  • GigeNET (Arlington Heights, Illinois)
  • INAP (formerly SingleHop) (Chicago, Elk Grove Village, and Franklin Park, Illinois)
  • Netrality (Chicago, Illinois)
  • New Continuum (West Chicago, Illinois)
  • QTS Data Centers (Chicago, Illinois)
  • QuadraNet (Chicago, Illinois)
  • RagingWire (Itasca, Illinois)
  • ServerFarm (Chicago and Oak Brook, Illinois)
  • Steadfast Networks (Chicago, Illinois)
  • Stream Data Centers (Elk Grove Village, Illinois)
  • Sungard Availability Services (Northbrook and Wood Dale, Illinois)
  • T5 Data Centers (Elk Grove Village, Illinois)
  • TierPoint (Chicago and Franklin Park, Illinois)
  • Zayo Group (zColo) (Chicago and Oak Brook, Illinois)

 

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Take a Look Inside the Chicago Data Center Market Opportunity Report