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 makes play to score soccer innovation

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Houston is kicking up its 2026 FIFA World Cup bid by a notch or two with a new innovative initiative.

The Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee on October 14 committed to establishing the nonprofit Soccer Innovation Institute if Houston becomes a host city for the FIFA World Cup.

"The institute will rely on Houston's spirit of innovation to create a united community investment in building a legacy that goes well beyond the city," according to a news release announcing the potential formation of the nonprofit.

The soccer institute, made up of a network of experts and leaders from various global organizations, would conduct specialized think tanks and would support a series of community programs.

"As the energy capital of the world, the global leader in medicine, the universal headquarters for NASA, and the home to numerous sports tech companies, Houston has an abundance of resources that are unmatched by other cities," Houston billionaire John Arnold, chairman of the 2026 bid committee, says in a news release. "By bringing these organizations together under one umbrella, the Soccer Innovation Institute presents the ultimate opportunity to redefine the player and fan experience, and develop a lasting legacy for the long-term benefit of the FIFA World Cup."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says the institute would align with the city's efforts to build a strong ecosystem for innovation, along with its passion for soccer.

"Houston is recognized as a leader in technology and innovation. We have many innovation hubs around the city that bring bright minds into collaborative spaces where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," the mayor says.

Held every four years, the World Cup assembles national men's soccer teams from around the world in one of the most planet's most watched sporting events. The traditional 32-team tournament will expand to 48 teams in 2026. After 2026, the World Cup might be staged every two years.

Among those collaborating on the Houston 2026 bid are NRG, the Texas Medical Center, Shell, Chevron, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the Council for Responsible Sport, the Houston Dynamo, the Houston Dash, the City of Houston, Harris County, and Houston First.

The FIFA World Cup 2026 will be played in 16 cities across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Houston and Dallas are among the 17 cities vying to become a U.S. host. A final decision is expected in the first half of 2022. If Houston is selected, it will host six World Cup games at NRG Stadium.

Between October 21 and November 1, World Cup delegates will visit eight cities in the running to be North American hosts: Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and Monterrey, Mexico.

Why small businesses are a big deal in Pearland

Small Business, Big Success

Here's a fun fact: 82 percent of businesses in Pearland are locally owned.

Besides providing a warm, fuzzy feeling, that fact actually has a big impact on what the the Lower Kirby city has to offer other companies that are looking to relocate.

Understanding that small businesses are vital to the local economy, the Pearland Economic Development Corporation does all it can to support the formation and growth of new businesses.

To gain a better understanding of the needs of local businesses, PEDC recently conducted a survey of all businesses in the community. The survey found that 92 percent of business owners felt that Pearland is a great place to live, work, and operate a business, and more than 80 percent of survey respondents gave excellent or good marks to Pearland as a place to do business — higher than the national comparison.

The city recently launched an online permitting portal that helps emerging businesses navigate the business registration process with a streamlined, easy-to-use interface that can be accessed anywhere, any time.

By answering just a few questions, potential new business owners can see all the necessary requirements and fees. And commercial permits are reviewed and approved within 20 days, on average.

Additionally, PEDC and community partners are creating an Entrepreneurship Hub, which will enhance Pearland's innovation entrepreneurship culture by creating events, programs, and activities for entrepreneurs and small business owners to inspire ideation and entrepreneurship.

The Hub will connect the city to local and regional entrepreneurship assistance programs, service providers, and funding sources to help businesses maximize their growth potential and overall success. Offerings of the Hub will include business plan competitions, proactive coaching, networking events, and student programs.

In addition to the resources offered, many small businesses that have relocated to Pearland cite the safety of the community and ease of access via multiple thoroughfares as top reasons that led them to the community.

Brask Neela, a small business founded in Louisiana, constructed a new manufacturing facility in Pearland to custom fabricate heat transfer equipment on 9.45 acres in Pearland's Industrial Drive Business Park. After its move to the Pearland area, the company can better service petrochemical and chemical customers in Texas City, Freeport, and Baytown, as well as global clients.

In addition to PEDC's assistance with land acquisition and attractive incentives, Brask Neela was drawn to the location's proximity to the workforce, the area's infrastructure, and open communications with the City of Pearland.

"Pearland provided incentives, proximity to workforce both for shop and office, infrastructure, and clear communication to address any needs with city officials," says Kevin Sareen, Brask Neela's business development manager.

Rollac Shutters manufactures exterior rolling shutters, solar zip shades, and awnings, and opened a 105,000-square-foot headquarters and manufacturing facility that allowed the company to engage in environmentally responsible manufacturing practices and integrate sustainability principles in its day-to-day operations.

"As a family-owned business, location and incentives were most important to us," says Eva Konrad, vice president at Rollac Shutters. "Pearland offered both and we love it here."

Houston-area school scores top 10 status in Texas

star pupils

A Houston-area school earned top honors in Texas in U.S. News & World Report's first-ever ranking of the state's best elementary schools.

Creekside Forest Elementary School comes in at No. 10. Creekside is nestled in the bustling Woodlands and in the Tomball Independent School District.

A public school, Creekside Forest Elementary boasts student population of 571, serving serves kindergarten through fifth grade. Impressively, according to the report, 93 percent of students here scored at or above the proficient level for math, and 87 percent scored at or above that level for reading.

Notably, the student-teacher ratio is at Creekside is 16:1, which is better than that of the district. The school employs 36 equivalent full-time teachers and one full-time school counselor.

The student population at Creekside is made up of 49 percent female students and 51 percent male students, with minority student enrollment at 43 percent. One percent of students here at economically disadvantaged.

According to the school's website, Creekside "is a learning community where all continuously strive for excellence."

Unlike its annual list of the country's best high schools, U.S. News & World Report didn't come up with a national ranking of elementary schools. Rather, it published a ranking for each state.

Myriad other Houston-area schools land later on the list, including West University Elementary at No. 17. According to U.S. News, the 10 best elementary schools in Texas are:

  1. William B. Travis Academy/Vanguard for the Academically Talented and Gifted, Dallas ISD.
  2. Windsor Park G/T Elementary School, Corpus Christi ISD.
  3. Old Union Elementary School, Carroll ISD.
  4. Carroll Elementary School, Carroll ISD.
  5. Hudson Elementary School, Longview ISD.
  6. Sudie L. Williams Talented and Gifted Academy, Dallas ISD.
  7. Canyon Creek Elementary School, Round Rock ISD.
  8. Carver Center, Midland ISD.
  9. Cactus Ranch Elementary School, Round Rock ISD.
  10. Creekside Forest Elementary School, Tomball ISD.
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.