SBA Buys JaxNAP Data Center, Eyes Larger Move into Edge Computing

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Tower operator SBA Communications is signaling larger push into edge computing, which could include more data centers and perhaps thousands of edge modules at the base of telecom towers.

SBA has bought its second data center, acquiring the JaxNAP carrier hotel facility in Jacksonville, which houses an Internet exchange and connects to a cable landing station serving three international cables. JaxNAP will join the New Continuum Data Center in Chicago to form the nucleus of the SBA Edge platform.

SBA President and CEO Jeff Stoops said the company hopes to build a significant edge computing network, which will include both data centers and infrastructure at the base of its towers.

“One of the areas of growth we are pursuing is SBA Edge, where we are focused on using our existing tower assets to offer highly distributed local sites for edge data centers with the potential to provide low latency connectivity to wireless networks,” Stoop said during SBA’s earnings call Tuesday. “We currently have over 8,000 pre-qualified tower sites in the U.S. as locations where we can situate an edge data center with access to secure space, power and fiber. These tower edge data centers will provide co-location options for customers computing infrastructure with connectivity to a larger metro data center for internet for private network connectivity.”

JaxNAP is 280,000-square foot, 14-megawatt facility providing regional colocation and interconnection services, including subsea cable telecommunications companies and approximately 20 fiber providers. The building houses the Jacksonville Internet Exchange, and connects to three subsea cable systems –  America Movil Submarine Cable System-1 (AMX-1), CONFLUENCE-1 and the Pacific Caribbean Cable System (PCCS). The JaxNAP deal was first reported at LightReading.

Stoop said JaxNAP “will allow us to develop deeper data center capabilities and further enhance our tower edge data center value proposition through increased interconnection and operational knowledge.”

Tower Companies Build Edge Momentum

With the emergence of edge computing, a growing number of wireless companies have been acquiring assets in the data center sector, preparing for a future with greater integration between data centers, telecom towers and antennas.

Tower companies like SBA and rival American Tower are emerging as potentially major players in the cloud landscape, with the ability to build, buy or partner with other edge-focused companies.  These companies have been learning the data center business as a way to lay the groundwork for further expansion, taking gradual steps to understand the components of a successful edge computing network.

There are signs that this process is accelerating, with SBA’s purchase of JaxNAP and the recent launch of American Tower Edge featuring data modules at the base of cell towers in six cities – Atlanta, Jacksonville, Denver, Boulder, Austin and Pittsburgh. American Tower also owns colocation provider Colo Atl.

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SBA’s path to the edge started with an edge data center at one of its tower sites in Foxborough, Mass., followed by larger data centers in Chicago and Jacksonville.

“We believe (these data centers) will act as edge hubs or intermediate aggregation points for compute and storage,” said Stoops. “We’re excited about the potential of this value-added business line and are in discussions with a number of interested parties about a range of our expanding capabilities in this area.”

Learning How Data Flows Across the Network

SBA operates more than 30,000 tower sites, and has analyzed its network to identify the 8,000 potential edge sites that Stoops mentioned on the earnings call. He outlined three ways that SBA could operate edge data centers at its tower sites.

“We could just be the landlord and run out the pad and the improvements and the connections,” said Stoops. “The second option will be to take the middle ground and own the shell and the infrastructure, but let somebody else own the active electronics and operate them. The third option is run the whole thing, and that’s really what the data center ownership and operation is designed to allow us to (understand) when it really comes time to make that decision.”

Part of SBA’s goal is to sort out the issues created by data gravity and how traffic moves across networks and the regional and core data centers will work together to support and edge computing ecosystem.

“One of the impetuses behind this recent (JaxNAP) purchase, is that all the folks who are going to be customers at the edge, at the cell site, will be coming from some other larger data center repository,” said Stoops. “It’s really quite interesting how the connectivity needs to work where large storage goes to moderate size and then ultimately out to the edge. Data center connections to the ultimate edge are going to be very important, and that’s part of what we’re working on here as well.

“We want to make sure we understand and have that capability operationally down … and understand what the relationships are between the absolute edge, which is what ultimately will be our forte, and the data center aggregation points along the way that will be necessary to make it all work.”

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