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March 21, 2017 -
Even as some of the giant telecom providers move out of the data center business, a very different group of telecoms may move in. Rural telecom providers are positioned to convert old central offices into data centers, and some are already doing so, says Joe Reele, vice president – solution architects, IT business, for Schneider Electric.
The opportunity is a product of change in telecommunications technology, Reele says. These central offices were built at a time when landlines were the only phones. Back then, Reele says, it was national policy to make landline phone service available in all parts of the country. The rural central offices were built to achieve that goal. They housed the bulky gear that made phone service possible in those days.
But advances in electronics have produced a move from analog to digital equipment that dramatically reduced the footprint and power profile of the equipment housed in those central offices. That has left these central offices with available space, power, and cooling.
The buildings are of masonry construction with few if any windows. And while they never housed many people, they were home to machines that needed to be powered and cooled. And for reliability in the event of an electrical outage, they had backup generators. Space, cooling, and power in a solid building — all the elements for a data center.
Reele say these facilities could fill an emerging need for what are known as “edge data centers” — data center space that is remote from a company’s major data centers but near its customers. A variety of Internet-based companies have a solid business reason to be close to their customers, says Reele: to avoid long haul charges for moving large amounts of data. For example, suppose a provider of bandwidth-intensive content like video has a major data center on the East Coast. Reele says that avoiding the cost of transporting data to customers in the Midwest is an incentive to consider data center space closer to those customers. That provider doesn’t need another major data center to address that need, Reele says; instead, it may benefit from the ability to share data center space in a variety of locations.
Here’s where Reele says the rural telecoms could come in. Their central office facilities are often located in areas were there are no colocation data centers. By converting their unused space into colocation data centers, they could meet the emerging need for edge data centers, he says.
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