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 family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

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Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.