26 May 2017 – China Daily
When British billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben first bought an interest in data center provider Global Switch in 2004, it was a loss-making company.
Over the years, the London-based corporation has grown into a leading owner and operator with ten data centers spread across Europe and the Asia Pacific. Behind the transformation is Chief Executive Officer John Corcoran, who has steered the company into a highly profitable enterprise that’s still growing. There has been a rising trend of companies and governments outsourcing to third-party data centers as the deployment of data center co-location services enables entities to cut their in-house IT maintenance costs, while ensuring higher security and reliability, plus high-bandwidth availability.
“Many customers realize computer rooms in office buildings are not suitable for keeping their data processing and storage. The capital cost of a data center is very high, it takes significant resources to invest in a data center, but sharing the costs of operating a data center among a wide range of customers offers greater economic benefits,” Corcoran tells China Daily on a visit to Hong Kong. It’s a very capital intensive business, he says. “One of our sites in London has enough standby power generation capacity on the campus to meet the domestic power requirements for the city of Edinburgh, and we’re talking about a very large investment.”
Over the years, Global Switch has secured over 1,200 clients globally. With notable corporations like IBM and Microsoft in its fold, major clients range from financial institutions, governments and telecommunication carriers to conglomerates worldwide. Corcoran sees a rising trend of organizations outsourcing to data centers around the world, especially in developing countries and regions. According to a report by global market research and consulting company Markets and Markets, the data center co-location market is estimated to grow from US$25.7 billion in 2015 to US$54.13 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 16.1 percent during the forecast period.
Corcoran has contributed to perfecting the business model at Global Switch since he assumed the company’s top management. He has been a key adviser to shareholders since 2004, when the Reuben brothers first acquired a stake in the company before going on to own it two years later. When the Reubens first acquired Global Switch, it had yet to get in the groove. It was running at a loss and its eight data centers were operating like a loose federation of businesses.
“We standardized all the processes and systems to convince our global customers that we were able to satisfy their exacting data center needs in Hong Kong, as well as in Frankfurt and Sydney,” recalls Corcoran.
His strategy then was to establish large-scale, multi-tenanted carrier and cloud-neutral data centers in Europe and the Asia Pacific, exclusively in first-tier markets that are major business and connectivity hubs, close to central business districts.
“It’s challenging creating the data center business in those key telecommunication markets because access to power was very difficult, access to connectivity was very difficult and, generally, the price of land was very high. We acquired the land because we took a long-term view by buying land earlier on, by working with power and telecommunication companies. I think this has been part of our success.”
Currently, North America is the largest market for data center co-location services, but Global Switch has yet to take on the region. Corcoran has thus decided to position the company in the growing European and Asia Pacific markets, particularly Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. Last year, Global Switch recorded revenue of approaching 400 million pounds (US$516.2 million) from its global operations, with the Asia Pacific accounting for one-third of the total.
Top credit rating
The group has so far pumped HK$5 billion into the Hong Kong data center which, on completion, will be the SAR’s largest carrier and cloud-neutral data center, taking up 45,000 square meters of space. Another new site in Shanghai is expected to come into operation late next year at the earliest, according to Corcoran.
Hong Kong is the 11th data center under the Global Switch umbrella and five more are under discussion or construction. Upbeat about the company’s financial strength, Corcoran says HK$5 billion is a “modest number” compared with the company’s extensive portfolio of existing data centers valued at about 5 billion pounds. With a Fitch Rating of “BBB+”, Global Switch is the highest credit-rated data center company in the world.
Chinese mainland consortium Elegant Jubilee bought a 49-percent interest in Global Switch last year for US$2.9 billion. The consortium consists of a bevy of leading Chinese companies and institutional investors, led by Jiangsu Sha Steel Group — the largest privately owned steel company on the mainland. Talking about the acquisition, Corcoran reveals they had received many offers over the years. “Elegant Jubilee’s offer was attractive in certain ways. Firstly, they’re completely happy with our business model, and that is very important as we’ve been perfecting our business model in the past decade and we don’t wish to change. “Secondly, it’s a group of financial institutions that are looking to help the business grow — they’re from capital intensive industries and have access to lots of capital, but the key things Elegant Jubilee has brought to us is significantly improved access to Chinese customers.”
What really convinces everyone, Corcoran stresses, is a pipeline of growing mainland customers on the back of the Belt and Road Initiative. As for future plans, he sees the business effectively doubling in the next 10 to 15 years. “It’s not a pipe dream, it’s a pipeline of developments.”
‘In this business, security is of prime importance’
Before John Corcoran took the helm at Global Switch as chief executive officer in 2014, he had nearly 30 years’ experience in the global property and finance industries under his belt. He believes his extensive career background had helped him land the top job at the data center giant. Acquiring land, building up data centers and leasing them to customers echo his previous role as chief financial officer at Multiplex Group — a major diversified Australian property group.
Just like running real estate, Corcoran says security is of paramount importance to the business. Given the highly confidential nature of the data customers host with an outsourced data center, he strives to convince his clients, who do not have direct control over the server, that the data is absolutely safe with them. “We convince all our customers that we can only access the area to maintain the equipment, we go in there to maintain their power and cooling services, and that access to these areas is strictly controlled, with the high level of security and access control applied to each area,” assures Corcoran.
The seasoned executive stresses that discipline and integrity are critical to the data center operator. Corcoran, an Australian, reckons that hard work plays an essential role in one’s success. As a CEO, he’s on the phone each day at 5:30 am, making sure he’s always on call if anything crops up at their Hong Kong, Sydney or Singapore offices. He’s involved in every project to get a detailed understanding of the complex requirements of every client. With around 250 employees under his supervision around the world, Corcoran knows each and everyone of them. He maintains a very flat management structure and is open to all his staff. “I always encourage people to work hard and be responsible. Once they take up such responsibility, they’ll have the confidence in making the right decisions.”