Visi, a company many of us are familiar with since its founding in 1994, is Minnesota’s largest locally owned managed hosting and connectivity provider (11,000 business and residential customers who include thousands of DSL customers). What most don’t know is that the company is expanding right here in Eden Prairie, with a Tier III data center, in order to meet growing demand.
A Tier III data center has 99.982% uptime, backup power,and other infrastructure that ensure mission-critical serving continues with only minor downtime (To learn more about data center tiers, view this article or this PDF from Minnesota telecom company, ADC).
As the awareness and creation of composite applications (i.e., mash-ups), Software as a Service (SaaS), web applications, mobile smart-phone delivery and other Internet-connected activities accelerate here in Minnesota and anywhere else an Internet connection is found, it’s a business imperative to have access to world-class infrastructure as well as the service and support necessary to meet our hosting needs.
Beyond that imperative lies something that few understand, let alone have created strategies to meet and exceed expectations: performance and user experience.
When more and more of us either use or deliver applications that have connections to multiple served applications (e.g., your website also serves a forum, wiki, blog and applications), performance is always critical. But in a Web 2.0 day when data reside in multiple locations; web applications have functionality delivered by multiple providers in different geographies; and people’s expectations are for immediate access to the cloud with snappy performance; a provider that understands the entire chain from you to the cloud and back is a choice to consider relying on.
Fortunately, we have a key provider right here in Minnesota that “gets it,” and it’s growing and expanding to meet demand, performance expectations and the increasing online emphasis by Minnesotans.
I took a tour of Visi’s new Eden Prairie facility and sat down with the company’s chief technical officer, Jason Baker, as we discussed a wide range of topics: from their company and its origins; to Minnesota tech startups and their unique needs; the growing trend of companies embracing computing in the cloud; and competing with national data center providers who enjoy scale and thus cost efficiencies.
Its new data center is in an industrial park in the heart of Eden Prairie’s densest business location with easy access off of Highway 212. The outside of the building is warehouse chic (i.e., boring and ugly) but their offices are very nice and functional.
As we toured the facility, we headed back to the huge, cavernous and empty warehouse — still being built-out as capital markets fluctuate wildly, slowing things down a bit — I was impressed with our discussions about their Tier II data centers meeting current needs but that this new Tier III one was about future growth and demand satisfaction. No positioning, spin or explanations, but I sensed a tiny bit of frustration that they may need to move ahead with cash flow funding (vs. relying on the capital market) since moving ahead with this new data center was that important to Minnesota and to Visi’s growth.
Jason and I met in a conference room and talked about a wide range of topics, but several things I wanted to gain insight into were their vision, values, business philosophy and willingness to step into an Internet-centric leadership role here in Minnesota.
One topic of interest to Minnesota businesses and startups that demonstrates all of the above are these:
• If you’re a business that has outsourced your data center to a provider like Visi, it’s not just speedy connections from your business to your hosted servers that matters … it’s also what happens from your servers out to the cloud so your composite applications, access to SaaS providers (e.g., Salesforce.com) and their business is not just serving … it’s Internet connectivity placing them in a unique position.
• As we toured, Jason pointed out rows of application developers. One of their value-adds is dashboard-like control applications for their customers, and the company is constantly improving upon and creating new software management systems in order to provide its customers with systems management ability and analytics.
• Controlled growth is key so company officials can maintain their current ability to provide superior customer support and service.
That last one is at the heart of what I came to understand as one, key Visi value: that adding servers, Internet connectivity customers and putting numbers on the board isn’t job #1 … it’s growing as long as its support, service and reputation stay as strong as they are currently.
Of course, I asked the competition question at this point. How do they compete with national data center companies and defend against the threats posed by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the Google App Engine?
As we delved into this more, it became clear that company officials are continuing to accelerate their ability to offer cutting-edge products and services, but customer service and support are key competitive advantages. Though I didn’t mention it, there are several anecdotes I could’ve told about developers I know that have run into issues with AWS, for instance, and invested days in driving toward a resolution because of the difficulty in connecting with a human (and the same human, so one doesn’t have to re-tell the same prelude story again and again).
Everything Jason said about the operations reinforced the reasons why a startup or Minnesota business would choose Visi over a national provider. I still think its challenges are formidable, but it’s more than aware of them, and its strategy and scenario planning are taking all of it into account.
One of Jason’s comment summed up the philosophy and values: “We all live in Minnesota and are raising our kids here. This is home, and we’re continuing to strive to be the best and a world-class company.”
One indicator of the company’s willingness to be the thought leader in Minnesota around Internet-centric direction is its Vision 2008: Technology Innovations That Drive Business event. Check it out, and if you’re in the market for Internet connectivity, co-location, outsourced data services or a place to host that new web startup you’ve created, Visi is worth serious consideration.