Building a competitive hyperscale advantage

One-on-one with Yotta Infrastructure’s Co-founder and CEO Sunil Gupta

In an exclusive interview with InterGlobix Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Jasmine Bedi, Yotta Infrastructure’s Co-founder and CEO Sunil Gupta, also known as ‘India’s Data Center Man’, discusses the genesis and strategy behind the data center company part of the Hiranandani Group, one of India’s largest real estate groups. Throughout his career spanning almost three decades, Gupta has built and operated more than 20 third party data centers in India.

Can you share the idea behind Yotta Infrastructure?

A couple of years ago, when I exited one of the very large data center organisations, the concept I had in my mind was how can data centers play a pivotal role in Digital India. While our country was witnessing digital growth all around, I could sense the increasing demand-supply gap in the data industry. Till about a year ago, there were just siloed buildings and not data center parks.

 For my vision to take a realistic shape, it was adequately clear in my mind that we need to align with an organisation that has the backing of real estate expertise, self-power generation, and is combined with data center expertise. Because Hiranandani Group, India’s largest real estate developer, used to construct buildings for existing data center players in the country, led me to a conversation with them. Hence, my dream of creating hyperscale data center parks led me to align with the Hiranandani Group, and this is how we formed this organisation, called Yotta Infrastructure.

The name Yotta itself, which is the highest byte size, signifies the sheer scale of our operations. To address the burgeoning market requirements, we set up the country’s first hyperscale data center park at Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra. Now, every other data center operator is following us and striving to construct data center parks. Most importantly, the Uptime Institute Tier IV certification that we have achieved for quality infrastructure has set a benchmark for India’s data center industry. I can proudly state that Yotta NM1 is at par with any global data center facility, and customers’ responses and feedback is a testimony to it.

Yotta NM1 data center, Navi Mumbai

India is the fastest growing data center market in the Asia Pac region. What are the macro trends driving this growth?

A year ago, the data boom, cloud usage and the government’s “Digital India” program were the driving factors making India the global hub for data centers. With the pandemic hitting globally, the dependency on online activities increased multi-fold and we have been witnessing an upward trend in data traffic as businesses move majorly to the cloud. The remote workforce is a reality that has increased online content consumption. This leads to a growth in data centers that results in growth for big data analytics and emerging technologies, like IoT and AI.

Amidst the height of the lockdown, businesses could not access their captive data centers, but third-party data centers were functioning since deemed “essential services.” This influenced enterprises to move to multi-tenant data centers (MTDCs), which is also more economical and accessible. Additionally, the Indian government’s proposed data protection bill is key in driving growth.

Given existing operators, as well as large international players entering in the market, what are Yotta’s competitive advantages?

Building and operating data centers is capital intensive. They require an abundance of land, power and network connectivity. As a Hiranandani Group company, Yotta has access to land parcels across India, premier construction capabilities, domain expertise, power generation and distribution infrastructure.

We’re empowered to get data centers up and running in record time. Our first building NM1 at our Navi Mumbai data center park became fully operational within 11 months. Coming next will be data center parks in Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi-NCR, Mumbai city and Pune. Construction work is underway for Phase II of Navi Mumbai, our first data center building at the Chennai and Delhi-NCR parks.

We have our DevCo (Developer Company) and PowerCo (Power Company) capabilities embedded, due to the Hiranandani Group. However, what Yotta truly offers is the combined capabilities of a DevCo, PowerCo and OpCo (Operating Company), with an unmatched capability in terms of OpCo. Out of 29 years of my professional experience, about 22 of those were spent in the data center domain. During that time, I built 19 data centers. Out of 19, about the last five have been Hyperscale.

An experienced design and engineering team supports me when setting up hyperscale data centers. The same team that had Yotta NM1 operational so quickly, while also working on Chennai, Delhi-NCR and other projects. A dedicated Projects Management team handles expansions. We now have standardized design-engineering templates and practices for constructing large hyperscale data centers. These helps roll out new ones in max 15 months from start.

At Yotta, we took on the challenge of building the most demanding facility with an eye on high quality–the construction of an Uptime Tier IV certified data center, ours received the TCDD (Tier Certification of Design Documents). When we took up the challenge, to meet the stringent fault requirement of Tier IV certification, we ended up making many changes to our standardized design. Uptime Tier IV demands that there’s no single point of failure anywhere in the building and that  full capacity of power and cooling operates continuously.

Designing, engineering and executing such a facility led us to get components, like bus ducts and cables, custom manufactured from our partners. We then were able to create a fully automated layer of monitoring and management for a complete cooling distribution and fuel management system.

We received TCDD certification about six months back. And we also are expecting TCCF (Tier Certification for Constructed Facilities) certification soon, awarded as a performance-based evaluation of a fault tolerant infrastructure. This will further demonstrate our reliability and ability to ensure a risk-free data center facility.

Additionally, we implemented some of the most advanced automation systems in our facilities, right from our BMS, which is fully redundant and monitors a million parameters of the entire building in the real-time, AI-enabled surveillance system, with an end-to-end automated RFID system for tracking every material entering or exiting. We then added a touch-less key management system. This lets customers securely operate the keys of their racks and monitor and track usage of their rack keys in real-time and remotely.

For data center uptime, power and cooling are key. But data center connectivity on a global level can’t be ignored. How’s Yotta looking into it?

We absolutely have focused on connectivity from day one. At our Navi Mumbai DC, we installed our own ducts to connect the DC park to the national highway via four paths. This enabled every top telecom operators to bring their fiber from the highway to our data center park from multiple paths. We already have two Internet Exchanges, including NIXI at our DC. We project to have the third Internet Exchange operating from our DC very soon.

By investing in dedicated, low-latency and redundant fiber paths, we deliver direct connectivity between all of the hyperscale cloud operators and the customers who host with Yotta. On the Uplink side, we are connected to the top six ISPs through high-capacity burstable links, with many downstream ISPs also connecting to us.

We are a super connected data center in Navi Mumbai. The customers who host with us get all of the possible high-speed connections to the rest of the world.

How does the recent announcement of the Kolkata data center fall in line with Yotta’s expansion strategy?

Within two years of Yotta’s inception, we expanded our hyperscale data center parks across India. Others followed soon after we announced investments at Chennai and Delhi-NCR. Traditionally, this industry waited to sign up an anchor customer before investing in a region. That’s how they missed the bus. What we are doing differently works in our favor to meet the demand of India’s colocation market. Our simple expansion strategy we follow is: While we may not have anchor customers at these places, we have the first-mover advantage.

Soon, to reach the whole country a presence will be needed in all four regions for our customers, like hyperscalers, OTT, and e-commerce players and those who will deploy digital tech, like AI/ML. Navi Mumbai, Delhi-NCR and Chennai established our presence in three regions.

While other players still deliberate, we’ve taken a proactive approach going ahead with the Kolkata campus. Trying to more quickly anticipate the future market, we’re constructing the campus before competitors can do the same. And, due to the eastern region’s importance, new subsea cables were announced that connect the West Bengal and eastern region to the rest of the world.

Would you describe your product strategy to be geared more toward hyperscalers or enterprise colocation customers?

At Yotta, our mission is to provide scalable, innovative and high-quality data center infrastructure to hyperscalers; and futuristic digital technologies on a Pay-per-use model to enterprises and governments, enabling them to deliver compelling digital experiences to end Indian consumers and businesses.

In a nutshell, Yotta focuses on both. Hyperscaler’s consume volume, whereas enterprises need solutions to meet their business use-cases on an OPEX model. So, we offer them our solutions, as well as partnerships with leading technology players.

Today, enterprise customers need everything on As-a-Service model. So, we created a separate bouquet of services–Yotta Tech. This offers services like Yotta Enterprise Cloud, HPC-as-a-Service, Banking Compliance-as-a-Service, Work from Anywhere solutions, SAP-as-a-Service, Graphics Workstation Anywhere and various others, including Network & Connectivity, Security and IT Management.

Describe the top impediment for an enterprise’s digital transformation in India? How is Yotta helping those customers with this?

Keeping pace with the dynamic nature of digital technologies impedes most enterprises. As a CIO/IT leader, you put money into new technology, but by the time it gets implemented something else knocks on your door. Realizing this, entreprises now want to avoid CAPEX intensive investments.

At Yotta, we are democratizing new technologies on As-a-Service model. We rule out the customer’s risk of new technology by developing a solution with a tech-provider. We create a mass-consumption model and provide it on a pay-as-you-use billing or an on-demand consumption model. All our products are available on this model, colocation, cloud and new solutions. We help our customers focus on driving the innovation agenda. By providing the latest technology on a budget customer can leverage extra capital on new and emerging technologies.

Reliable power is a crucial part of the data center business. How are you overcoming the challenges in India of rolling blackouts and power outages?

There has been improvement, but reliable power continues to be an issue for data centers across the nation. As a Hiranandani Group company, we have access to our own power utility company (TUCO), gas-based power generation via H-energy and a power substation onsite at our data center park. All three help us deliver reliable and continuous power. Besides, being an Uptime Institute certified Tier IV data center, redundancy is built into our design. Meaning, any failure at the facility won’t lead to downtime to our customer’s rack at any time. For backup, our data center can operate uninterrupted for 48 hours with a full IT load (thanks to our 32 diesel generators onsite with six lakh liters of fuel storage).

Please share your views on the Indian government’s Personal Data Protection Bill and the proposed law currently under consideration?

We’re on the right path for protecting rights and safeguarding citizens’ data. This push for data localization, and the Data Protection Bill, does require a huge dosage of data-center infrastructure. The government should enforce compliance and take stringent measures, while devising a governance mechanism that ensures social media platforms host their data in Indian data centers. Furthermore, I think that the government should draft a comprehensive policy that ensures storing all data related to Indian citizens within the country.

What are high-growth regions for data centers in India?

Mumbai leads the way for new data centers. It happens to be the cable landing station, so there’s assured power supply, receives state government incentives and also has an infrastructure advantage. Hence, Mumbai and Navi Mumbai see the maximum investments.

Closely following are the Chennai and Delhi-NCR regions, which recently had investments by major national and international data center players. Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune and Bengaluru also have lucrative markets for hyperscale data center parks. 

“Edge Data Centers” are the latest buzzwords. Do you think Edge DCs will reduce the dependency on centralized hyperscale data center parks?

Until recently, a digital transformation for any CIO would be to implement enterprise applications like ERP, mail server, intranet, core banking, digitization of documents, etc. Enter the new wave of digital transformation, now the same CIOs want their factories, machines and sensors to be connected to the Internet. They’re bringing in robotics and using AI/ML to automate business operations. In order to be successful, they’ll rely heavily on 5G for extremely fast communication speeds.

Now, data centers have to be built keeping in mind the multitude of new IoT devices connecting to the Internet every second. Organizations want to keep data close to where it is generated–also know as edge computing, which requires data center nodes close to the sources of data and content. It isn’t feasible to transmit data all the way to a traditional cloud as more devices need real-time access and decision-making capabilities, like with autonomous cars. With 5G on the rise, edge computing ensures low latency and high speed remain in high demand.

Edge data centers would complement centralized hyperscale data centers, in addition to supporting newer uses for digital transformation. Customers can demand AI and ML platforms as a service from us. We will use the same technologies for automated proactive management of hyperscale data centers for remote monitoring and management of our edge DCs placed in far-off locations.

All these factors led us to take edge data centers seriously. We are finalizing our strategies to soon roll out our national edge data center services.

What do you see as the key trends impacting the Indian data center industry in the next five years?

Digital boom and the Pandemic have fast-tracked the reliance on the cloud and, in turn, data centers. These are my five predictions for trends to positively impact the data center industry in India.

1 Data localization and protection-These policies play a key role in boosting data center growth in India.

2 Rise of public cloud-Entreprises realizing the importance of the public cloud are moving legacy workloads. It offers agility, scalability and cost efficiency. As per NASSCOM, India’s public cloud services are expected to reach an estimated $5billion by 2023.

3 As-A-Service model – AI, ML, IoT and other emerging tech now are available across industries on as-a-service model, making it accessible to everyone. Thus, enterprises are moving from a CAPEX to OPEX model.

4 Machine generated data-With IoT and AI gaining commercial prominence, the data generated by machines is enormous. This needs to be stored and analyzed, which is where hyperscale data centers come into the picture.

5 Green energy-Customers demand efficient data centers. Data center players in India continuously will have to improve their energy consumption and efficiency. This will lead to the adoption of green power and reducing operating costs.

Do you have a life motto?

Happiness! I believe that what one does should be enjoyed, irrespective of where he/she is in life, which makes himself along with the community around her/him happy, too. I am a simple person and follow basic philosophies in life.

Some basic principles that I follow actively are:

  • Always believe that life is beautiful.
  • Traverse through ups and downs of life with tranquility.
  • Face the storms as they appear, but after every storm return to your equilibrium, your permanent subconscious state of happiness.
  • The leader commands respect only when she/he walks the talk.
  • Strategizing is great, but real success lies in great execution, which itself needs lots of strategizing.
  • Always be in learning mode. 
  • My life philosophies and mottos can be seen in Yotta’s operational values: Enhanced Customer Experience, Innovation, Agility, Trust, Transparent Partnerships and Fostering Happiness.