American Tower at the convergence of Cell Towers, Edge Data Centers and Carrier Hotels

An exclusive interview with Eric Watko,
Vice President, Product Line Management, American Tower

InterGlobix Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief caught up with Eric Watko to discuss the latest developments at American Tower, including the new Edge Data Center strategy and product roadmap for new services and business models. As the Vice President of Product Line Management, Watko is leading the U.S. innovation strategy and managing the lifecycle of new and existing products and services. Prior to American Tower, Watko held several leadership positions focused on new product introductions at SES Networks, VT iDirect and Cisco Systems.

American Tower acquired Colo Atl in the spring of  2019, which marked its foray into data center industry. Can you tell us the strategic importance of that acquisition. How has the integration progressed thus far?

The Colo Atl acquisition was our entry into the data center space. We had a specific goal in mind, which was to learn as much as we could about the industry and business, and it has helped shape our edge strategy today.

We believe edge, or distributed network architecture, is the natural network progression, based on the needs of customers and the increasing number of advanced applications requiring lower latency.

In the market today, edge is best served for enterprises who need elasticity in their network. They need to quickly expand or decrease computer processing, memory and storage resources to meet changing demands, without having to worry about capacity planning and engineering for peak usage. They need a network that adapts automatically to the natural ebb and flow of their business, and the edge structure provides this level of flexibility.

Eventually, as 5G matures and becomes more widely adopted by consumers, new advanced applications will emerge that demand lower latency and better network performance. These applications include Artificial Intelligence (AI), autonomous driving, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, machine learning, cloud computing, cybersecurity, Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR), gaming and more. As a result, hosting the data closer to the consumer will become a necessity for that optimized experience. 

American Tower Edge Data Center

You recently announced an Edge Data Center strategy. What role do highly interconnected sites, like Colo Atl, play in your strategy?

Leveraging the real estate of our tower portfolio, which includes 40,000+ sites in the U.S., we developed Edge Data Centers to deliver an interconnected network fabric and cloud resources for increasing network capacity. Our edge solution provides:

  •  Speed and scale our customers need
  •  Strategic locations where connectivity already occurs
  •  Turnkey infrastructure that includes connectivity, power, monitoring, security and cooling, while working with a single company
  •  Reliable service and exceptional performance

“Metro data centers, like Colo Atl, will continue to have a role in the new network ecosystem, allowing edge to aggregate back to a metro center. The network diagram on the next pages demonstrates the symbiotic relationship between core, metro, and edge data centers. First, data is transmitted from edge data centers, then it’s aggregated back to metro or core facilities, depending on proximity. Each part remains essential.”

Because of our extensive tower portfolio, we can deliver a truly distributed model at scale in a variety of markets. The use of our already-established real estate allows us to deploy faster, because there is no need to search for suitable land, with a willing landowner, and negotiate the right price and terms. We can skip those time-consuming steps and begin building.

As an owner and operator of data centers and cell towers, how do you define the edge and edge data centers?

I have seen many definitions of “Edge” in the industry—from massive, over 100,000-square-foot facilities in major metropolitans to small, local on-premises facilities. We believe the opportunity for Edge Data enters is in secondary markets. There are many enterprises located in these markets, but they are far enough away from a regional or core data center, which prohibits them from having the optimized network they need.

Another reason: secondary, suburban markets make perfect sense for us is where our towers are located—95 percent of the American Tower U.S. sites are outside of urban environments. These rural and suburban markets are a sweet spot for us, where our strength meets market opportunity. Our large portfolio offers great location options for customers, providing scale and speed. We are being strategic about the markets we go into, so we’ll be working closely with our partners to identify locations that will complement core and metro data centers.

American Tower’s representation of Core, Metro and Edge Data Centers

How many Edge Data Centers does American Tower have currently, and how many do you plan to have over the next five years? Any new capabilities/features you plan to deploy at these sites?

We currently have six Edge Data Centers, located in: Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Boulder, CO; Denver, CO; Jacksonville, FL; and, Pittsburgh, PA. We will continue to evaluate the market and will scale the business accordingly. The unique position American Tower has is that we’re able to leverage our existing tower portfolio to develop Edge Data Centers in strategic locations, providing turnkey networks. We can scale quickly based on the needs of the market and our customers.

Our turnkey service includes:

  •  Power (primary and secondary)
  •  Power distribution
  •  Monitoring
  •  Security (interior and exterior
  • security cameras)
  •  HVAC
  •  Managed connectivity
  •  Edge Internet (bandwidth and connectivity to the Internet)
  •  Edge tunnel-L2 transport (high-speed, layer-two network transport service)

 Edge wavelength-L1 transport (high-speed, layer-one network transport with dedicated bandwidth)

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