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June 2008
High-Tech Guardians
By Vivian McMahon

     Through organic growth and strategic acquisitions, Charlotte-based Peak 10, Inc. has become a leading independent data center operator and managed services provider in the United States. Whether it is providing data storage for a national financial institution or data backup for a major sports franchise, proprietary data is critical for businesses. In those regards, Peak 10 helps ensure that they are reliably and ably protected.

     Hardware and software can be replaced, but the data therein is invaluable to any business. Hackers, a natural disaster, or simple human error can shut down a business, sometimes permanently. Because of this, there is a growing need for backup, safe storage and redundancy of that data and it is Peak 10’s business to make sure their critical business data and enterprise remains secure.

     “Businesses must have security against outside intrusion,” says David Jones, co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Peak 10. “We provide many levels of security from basic physical security—network firewalls that will guard against spamming and viruses—to more forensic-oriented security, depending on what a customer needs.”

     “Customers come to us because of our engineering expertise and because our solutions are cost effective, more efficient for their operations, and allow them to avoid rising capital and power costs that they would otherwise incur operating their own data center facility,” Jones explains. “Additionally, our customers have the advantage of our broad technical expertise in every area of their IT needs.”

     “In addition to security,” adds Peak 10 Charlotte’s Pat O’Brien, general manager and vice president, “We offer a wide variety of managed services and local support in all of our markets.

     “As one example, we have specialized customers with very stringent regulatory compliance needs. All of our data centers are SAS 70 Type II compliant and because of this we are able to engineer custom solutions to meet each customer’s specific needs.”

Peak 10 has developed a skilled team of engineers who work closely to deliver highly customized managed services solutions in all of its markets. As part of this process, Peak 10 is able to effectively provide scalable and reliable service options to its growing customer base across the country.

     One company they service is Rivals.com, the most respected name in team-specific college sports coverage and the country’s number one authority on college football and basketball recruiting. “Their business has grown many times over, and the speed, availability and reliability of our services are essential to keeping them as our customer for data center services,” Jones affirms.

 

Mega growth

     Peak 10 was founded in March 2000, when the Internet bubble was growing to the exploding point.

     Says Jones, “We built two very secure data centers: one in Jacksonville, Fla., and one in Charlotte. Back then most of the big tech companies believed they knew what customer demand would be and built huge data centers with high-end security, high-end networking and technical engineering staff. At that point, we were viewed by many as a small, undercapitalized player.

     “A few years later, we were touted as brilliant because we had survived a very harsh economic period. In the end, we were successful because we fought tooth and nail and did not over-extend our capital and did not over-extend our operating costs.”

     In the fall of 2004, Peak 10 accomplished positive cash flow. Along the way, the original staff of five full-time employees grew to 178, with 25 part-time support staff.

     To go above and beyond to serve its customers, Peak 10 has partnered with a number of specialized companies to address specific customer needs. One example is Agility Recovery Solutions, a former division of General Electric, which can handle business continuity needs beyond traditional data recovery by immediately delivering a mobile recovery unit anywhere in the country.

     “If one of our customers knows they will be out of power for some period of time,” Jones explains, “these mobile units can be configured to meet a customer’s unique business requirements and be positioned on site for as long as necessary.”

     Over the past eight years, Peak 10 has become a respected national leader in delivering managed solutions and data security to small and midsized (SMB) companies. Through its 13 data centers in nine U.S. markets, Peak 10 serves companies around the country as well as in Europe. To keep its customers updated on its ever changing industry, Peak 10 hosts a series of informative Webcasts and seminars on the latest technological innovations and security concerns.

     Accessing a Peak 10 facility requires electronic security cards, codes and biometric fingerprint scans. Constantly watching, hidden cameras and motion/vibration detectors monitor activity in the building. In the data rooms, company and client servers are housed in steel-meshed cages and cabinets, with numerical security code access, being kept on a raised floor at a constant temperature with air conditioners the size of mini-buses. There are also back-up generators to keep customers up and running if there is a disruption to the public utility power supply at one of their locations.

     Peak 10 began its expansion in 2002 and 2003 by taking over leases of underperforming data centers, which proved to be a much smarter approach than buying those businesses outright. It has successfully retained many of the top personnel from the companies it has acquired.

     At present, growth means strategically adding more square footage to its current facilities, entering new markets and building new data centers. The company will add 70,000 square feet of raised floor space in 2008 to the 125,000 square feet already in operation. After carefully studying dozens of geographic locations, Peak 10 entered three new markets in 2007: Richmond, Va., Atlanta, Ga. and Cincinnati, Ohio.

     The company’s growth is fueled in part by the expanded $60 million credit facility Peak 10 recently received from RBC. “Our consistent growth over the years has drawn attention from an expanded group of lenders who believe in our business plan,” says Jones. “This credit facility further enables us to meet customers’ technical service and growth needs, while forging ahead with our expansion plans.”

     “Our company continues to evolve,” says Jones. “There is nothing static in this company, save for the constant attention on supporting our customers. In the early days, we had fewer customers. While we were not cash-flow positive, we were able to turn that critical corner because we were eyes down and elbows up, focused on every aspect of our operation. In 2004, I knew we had to raise our sights—an expanded focus and challenge on where we could take the company with the solid financial position we were in and the leadership team we developed.”

 

Corporate culture

     Jones, who graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Virginia, has had the entrepreneurial spirit most of his career. He spent the years after graduation with both telecom and telecom consulting companies and was responsible for creating several smaller telecom companies later sold to large entities like MCI/WorldCom before co-founding Peak 10.

     And, Jones’ hiring practices reflect that spirit, finding the best and the brightest with previous managerial experience and an entrepreneurial spirit to drive local market operations. What is unique is that his managers have a large amount of autonomy from the corporate office and are able to make quick decisions specific to their customers’ needs and their locations.

     “Right now I have the pleasure of managing nine entrepreneurs…and at times that can be a challenge,” Jones laughs. “But seriously, for the company to grow we need leadership from within. You can hire it from the outside and we certainly do, but our management leadership has an expectation on how each customer should be supported.

     “We strive to achieve a strong balance of local support, a mainstay of our business approach, along with centralized processes and support, which is essential to our ability to scale operations. You cannot easily move a customer’s support relationship to a centralized location when their services require a local touch, but you can create an environment of ‘intentional’ customer service that pervades all aspects of how you treat your customers. Consistency is a key regardless of whether we deal with a customer locally or through our centralized support center.”

     “We have a culture that has been driven by local relationships and an organizational commitment to unwavering customer support,” says O’Brien. “How we treat our customers resonates across the whole market.”

     Peak 10’s SAS 70 Type II status requires the privately held corporation to undergo both an independent financial audit and one that tests procedures and controls, which ensures they are capable of delivering the services they promise. “Many of our customers, and especially those in financial services, have to have that audit: where is their information stored and how is it accessible, what are the controls and are they followed?” Jones points out.

     “We do participate on our customers’ behalf on a number of compliance audits, everything from FDA to Sarbanes-Oxley, and in most of those compliance issues, we are one part of a larger study,” Jones says. “We have a dedicated internal team focused on customer compliance issues. With an ever changing regulatory environment, high level compliance services are becoming more and more essential to the small and midsized enterprises we serve.”

 

The future

     Recognized as an Inc. 500 company two years in a row, Peak 10 is strategically managing its growth and is well positioned for the future.

     “We know technologies will change as will the buzz-words in the IT industry,” says O’Brien. “Our focus is on providing the highest level of service possible so that we can help our customers successfully implement and deploy their technology solutions. For many companies, we are their IT staff.

     “Through our managed services solutions, we offer customers options they may not have access to otherwise. As examples, we are able to provide cutting-edge virtualization solutions as well as customized disaster recovery plans where customers can leverage our infrastructure and geographic footprint,” O’Brien emphasizes.

     Jones says that many times new customers come to Peak 10 when there is a disaster. “In Florida, when a series of hurricanes hit the South and West coasts, we had businesses arriving with their servers in the backs of cars and trucks because power was out and their buildings were flooded. We gave them temporary use of our facilities with an option to decide if they wanted to continue to be served by our company. We felt it was our responsibility to provide safe harbor and the opportunity to remain a customer if they so chose. Most did.”

     In the Internet era of real-time business operations, computer downtime and lost data often mean business downtime and lost revenue. The integrated, customized services provided by companies like Peak 10 have become essential to businesses that use computers and have electronic data, especially in enterprises with e-commerce or online services that need to be up and running 24x7x365. Helping keep businesses operational and secure, Peak 10 truly is a high-tech guardian.

 

 

 

Vivian McMahon is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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