According to a report from CBRE, Houston registered the eighth-most data center leasing in North America in first half of 2021. Photo by Christina Morillo/Pexels

Houston's data center market is electrified. In the first half of 2021, the local data center market saw the eight highest amount of leasing activity among the 17 North American markets tracked by commercial real estate services company CBRE.

In the first half of this year, the Houston data market experienced net absorption of 5.7 megawatts worth of capacity, up 119 percent from the first half of last year, CBRE says. Net absorption is a key indicator of leasing activity.

During the past year, Houston has added 5.1 megawatts of inventory, dropping the vacancy rate for data centers to 18.5 percent, according to CBRE.

"There have been a few large transactions in the first half of the year that added to Houston's increased absorption numbers," Brant Bernet, senior vice president in CBRE's Dallas office, says in a September 7 news release. "The major storyline for the Houston market is investor interest."

A handful of data center acquisitions already have occurred this year in the Houston area, and more could be on the horizon, Bernet said. Datacenters.com lists 20 privately owned data centers in the Houston area. Among all landlords, Dallas-based CyrusOne owns the most data centers in the Houston market — four.

In June, Las Vegas-based data center operator Switch completed its purchase of Austin-based data center company Data Foundry for $420 million. In Houston, Data Foundry operated two data centers totaling 370,000 square feet. At the end of 2021, Switch plans to develop more data centers in Houston and Austin that are set to open in 2023.

The smaller of Switch's two newly acquired data centers here is a 20,000-square-foot facility at 5555 San Felipe St. in West Houston. The larger one, encompassing 350,000 square feet, sits on an 18-acre site at 660 Greens Pkwy. in North Houston.

In March, Vienna, Virginia-based data center operator Element Critical purchased Skybox Datacenters' facility in Katy for an undisclosed amount. The more than 96,000-square-foot data center sits on 20 acres at 22000 Franz Rd. Skybox is based in Dallas.

A CBRE report indicates Houston's data center market remains dominated by international energy companies, finance companies, and regional health care providers. Demand comes largely from locally based companies.

Phillip Marangella, chief marketing officer at Herndon, Virginia-based EdgeConneX, is among insiders in the data center industry who are bullish about the future of data centers. EdgeConneX operates a 93,400-square-foot data center at 1510 Prime West Pkwy. in Katy.

"Data centers will be processing more workloads, more data, more video, more machine learning, and [will be] serving as facilitators for a global transformation in business, even smaller or more regional enterprises," Marangella tells Data Center Frontier. "Data centers are becoming part of an infrastructure fabric of capacity, connectivity, power, and proximity that is empowering enterprises to take advantage of the location, the scale, and the economics that work for them."

Edward Henigin, CTO of Data Foundry, sums up what he thinks the future of work from home will look like. Photo by Maskot/Getty

Texas expert: What does the future of remote work look like?

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Since the start of the pandemic, the idea that this event will change the way we live and work now and, in the future, has been a on the minds of everyone.

It's true that remote work has become a mainstay of day-to-day operations, and now the traditional offices are looking more and more like the office environment of the past. In a recent survey published in July 2020, it revealed that before the pandemic, only 17 percent of responding U.S. employees worked from home at a rate of five days or more per week. At the time, this survey was conducted in April, however, that share had increased to 44 percent. Even as pandemic response developed, a Gallup poll from October revealed that 33 percent of U.S. workers were still working remotely.

So, the question remains: What will the future of remote work look like for enterprises?

Changes we've seen so far

Businesses have already been finding their footing with the assistance of an array of platforms and solutions, all of which have helped them pivot quickly and successfully through the use of more digital means. Right now, we see that cloud-based collaborative applications like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom (which had its daily user numbers more than quadruple by April 2020) have become the backbone of many new workplace IT strategies, offering an ability to bridge the distance and ensure seamless cooperation.

Meanwhile, to keep a growing number of endpoints and devices secure as employees use home networks and personal computers to log onto work environments, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have become key. Studies show that VPN usage increased by 124 percent in the U.S. between March 8 and March 22, 2020. This can be attributed to the technology's ability to help businesses ensure protected file sharing, data encryption, secure remote access, and more. These are all crucial elements for keeping the expanding footprint of the enterprise network safe.

Finding a balance

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing remote work transitions. Some businesses will require more on-site work while others may make a more comprehensive transition away from central office locations. As we move forward, it's likely that we'll see many organizations settle somewhere in the middle with a hybrid strategy that allows distanced operations where feasible and on-site work where needed.

Overall, it's clear that across these many different applications and use cases, the importance of digital infrastructure has increased. Regardless of what platforms or services are in use, the network and other foundational IT infrastructure have become central to success as businesses expand their bandwidth needs, incorporate data-centric solutions, and depend on reliable, speedy communications. It will be crucial moving forward that businesses not only adapt to the challenges they currently face, but plan for a flexible long-term work strategy.

Understanding how the company will need to function and what services it will need to achieve success in any given strategy will be paramount, and after an individualized vision is developed, technology action plans will need to start rolling out. For some this may mean adjusting IT equipment environments (like moving on-premises data center assets to outsourced facilities), for others this may mean expanding their networks or implementing new cloud-based connectivity.

All in all, agility and flexibility are at the core of the reimagined enterprise, and planning is the enabler of both these business virtues. Now is the time to look forward, not only for the sake of preparation, but for the sake of keeping our eyes on a brighter, stronger, and more dynamic future.

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Edward Henigin is CTO at Austin-based Data Foundry, which has a growing data center location in Northwest Houston.

Data Foundry debuted its most recent expansion in North Houston, but that's just the start of the Austin-based company's growth in the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of Data Foundry

Data center in North Houston unveils newest expansion — with more growth planned

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Data Foundry Inc. may be finished with its 27,000-square-foot expansion at the company's data center in North Houston, but it's by no means finished growing at the site.

The Austin company's 18-acre, master-planned campus at 660 Greens Pkwy. allows for another 200,000 square feet. At build-out, Data Foundry will operate 350,000 square feet of space there.

Currently, the data center encompasses 150,000 square feet. The recent expansion completes the development's first phase. Each of two future phases will add 100,000 square feet.

So far, there's no timetable for the data center's second and third phases.

"It's all a function of demand. We will deploy the capital in response to the pace at which we end up filling up the new space," says Ed Henigin, chief technology officer of Data Foundry.

The 27,000-square-foot expansion debuted in late January at Data Foundry's Houston 2 Data Center. Henigin says space remains available there, but the company does have prospective tenants in the pipeline. It could take anywhere from six months to four years to lease the entire expansion, he says.

Data Foundry says increased customer demand along with business growth in Houston — especially in the healthcare, energy, and manufacturing sectors — prompted the four-megawatt expansion.

"For folks who are outside of Houston, it's an underappreciated market," Henigin says. "It's a huge economy, and there's a lot of dynamic activity happening in Houston and a lot of growth."

Generally, demand for data center space in Houston is "steady and healthy," Henigin adds.

"I don't think we're really overserved or underserved at this point. I think we're pretty well-balanced," he says.

Henigin points out that demand can shift depending on the region's economic conditions, such as upswings or downturns in the energy sector.

"A lot of the folks who have businesses in Houston have learned to be a little cautious, because you don't necessarily know when the next dry spell is coming," he says. "So there's a lot of careful planning or careful execution in business practices in order to be resilient."

Although Houston ranks as the fifth largest metro area in the U.S., it's not among the country's 10 biggest data center markets, unlike Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin/San Antonio. According to DataCenterMap.com, 40 data centers operate in the Houston area. A number of the region's data centers are in North Houston, The Woodlands, and Katy, according to datacenterHawk.

Among Data Foundry's competitors in the Houston market are CyrusOne Inc., Skybox Datacenters LLC, and Stream Data Centers LP — all based in Dallas — and San Francisco-based Digital Realty Trust Inc., according to datacenterHawk.

Customers of Data Foundry's Houston 2 Data Center include Carrizo Oil & Gas Inc., FMC Technologies Inc., Marathon Oil Corp., and Mattress Firm Inc. — all based in Houston — and Galveston-based Moody National Bank.

Houston 2 offers a 185 mph wind-rated infrastructure and an elevation above the 500-year floodplain. During Hurricane Harvey, tenants didn't lose power or network service, or experience flooding, Data Foundry says.

Data Foundry has operated data centers in the Houston area since 2002. Its other Houston data center, inside the Marathon Oil Tower at 5555 San Felipe St., comprises 20,000 square feet.

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Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

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On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

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For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”