The Future of Communication Technology: Jeff Uphues of DC BLOX On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Connect and Communicate With Each Other
An Interview With David Liu
At DC BLOX, we empower growing communities with reliable local infrastructure, connected technology and a global reach. Through our data centers, which are placed in underserved growing markets through the southeast US, we help enterprises, governments, cloud companies, network providers and advanced research entities power and connect digital business.
The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?
In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Uphues.
Jeff Uphues has been quietly leading DC BLOX as its CEO and board member since late 2016. DC BLOX is a leading provider of interconnected, multi-tenant data centers that deliver the infrastructure and connectivity essential to power today’s digital business. He is responsible for setting and leading the company’s strategy and execution in building new, tier III–designed, state-of-the-art data centers that are fully connected by a high-speed, low-latency private network throughout the Southeastern US.
Including this most recent round of financing, DC BLOXx, under Jeff’s leadership, has secured more than $285 million to accelerate and execute the company’s growth strategy of bringing modern data center, infrastructure, and connectivity to underserved growing markets. DC BLOX is among only a few data center operators in the US that have received large investments to enable mid market and Edge multi-tenant data center solutions.
Prior to DC BLOX, Jeff has a 25-year track record in the communications, cloud and data center industries, having held numerous C-suite leadership positions across sales, marketing and operations working for Liquid Web, Cbeyond, Bandwidth, ACSI Network Technologies and MCI.
Jeff serves as an active board member in several technology firms, he is a graduate from the Harvard Business School (AMP), Rice University’s Jones School of Business Executive Education program in Finance and Accounting, and completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Jeff lives in Alpharetta, GA with his wife and two girls and when not working is an active road cyclist or at a lacrosse field watching his youngest daughter play around the country.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
How a kid from a small town in rural Iowa ended up in the data center and technology business on a national stage is something my family, friends and I are still scratching our heads. I have definitely come a long way from the days living in a predominantly farming community to now designing, building and operating the heart of the digital economy.
My career in technology related businesses began when I was recruited into the long-distance telephone and fiber network business by a good friend who convinced me technology was going to change the way we communicate. Little did I know at the time that taking that entry level sales job at $18K salary plus, was an opportunity to earn commissions and would provide me with the opportunity to learn, thrive and succeed in a great evolving industry. It has been a lot of hard work, with more than a fair share of successes and failures along the way. I am thankful every day to my friend for setting up the opportunity which I have made into a great career thus far, but I still have much to learn and to do.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There are too many war stories from the extremely bizarre to the highly interesting to mention in the time we have for this interview. As an entrepreneur and business leader, I have been blessed to meet and interact with many people along the way who have helped shape my business career. The most interesting story would have to be the collection of people who I have met, worked with and learned from throughout my career. I have been fortunate to have interacted with astronauts, well known sports athletes, brilliant technologists who actually invented the internet, remarkable professors, wickedly smart colleagues and remarkable business leaders who helped shape my thinking. My lessons in leadership have been shaped in an equal amount of what not to do, with what you should do, through sound judgement and a little bit of luck.
By far though, the most interesting has to come from a series of failures rather than successes. I have been involved in a few companies which were run by financial strategists and deal makers versus customer centric operators who are most concerned with solving the technical or business problem, not just the financial problem. What I have learned through my experiences is, if you find the core root of a problem your customer is experiencing and you find it over and over again in other businesses, listen to your customers and do what they tell you. If you do this, if the market is big enough and you are not too early to the dance, you will build a very successful business. Don’t rush to a solution but be quick to capitalize on the opportunity once you have validated the data through the eyes of the customer, not the bankers. My own lessons of failures were jumping too quickly to solve one side of the equation. Be patient, but be quick.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have many favorites, most of which come from famous sports coaches. The one that sticks out as a life lesson from John Wooden, the famous basketball coach who led UCLA to 10 NCAA titles in his final 12 seasons of coaching. Coach Wooden’s quote of “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” I have learned that not everyone will take the time to understand you nor will they always like the decisions you make, but if you take the time to truly listen, clearly explain your position with relevant data and be decisive, people will understand your character.
The lessons of Wooden’s quote 100% translate now more than ever in this day and age of social media. I have learned this in my life through coaching my children that whatever you post or wherever you post it on social media, someone will find it. Be careful in what you share and post and be prepared to defend it as your character will be challenged at some point or another.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It sounds cliché but it has to be from my parents. I was taught from an early age that listening to various points of views, hard work, perseverance and drive to succeed can take you a long way. My dad was always known as a guy that took the time to get to know people, meet them where they were and for who they were and listened across the organization he ran for nearly 25 years. He would often say to me that the heartbeat of a company is on the front lines and in the trenches of how things are done and made, so listen to your people and help them succeed. My mother was the one that drilled into me nothing comes without hard work, dedication and striving for perfection. My takeaway was that perfection is nearly impossible, certainly was for me, and everyone needs small consistent doses of confidence to be far better than good. Also, never, never give up on your dreams of what is possible and eventually you will achieve your dream.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
That is a really big question. Success in the world can be measured in many ways. I would answer that I have been married to my wife for 21 years and that we have two healthy beautiful kids, great friends and a life of making each other smile and laugh. In business, success to bring goodness to the world is about the impact you have made to customers and the people around you. Really successful people do not care what you know or who you know but will always remember how much you care and how you made them feel. Success is in the eyes of the beholder, nothing more, nothing less.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
At DC BLOX, we empower growing communities with reliable local infrastructure, connected technology and a global reach. Through our data centers, which are placed in underserved growing markets through the southeast US, we help enterprises, governments, cloud companies, network providers and advanced research entities power and connect digital business. Our real purpose, which drives every aspect of our company, is to Serve Locally and Connect Globally on behalf of our customers.
The landscape of data is shifting, compounding and the interaction with data and where it is consumed is everywhere. For years, high quality, reliable multi-tenant data centers primarily existed in major markets. If you live in a non-NFL city, it is likely that the data you consume from your smartphone, tablet, computer or TV is being stored and delivered from a data center in a market that is hundreds or thousands of miles from you. The problem with this, is that data transforms, and it behaves differently based upon where the data is consumed. Our belief is that as data compounds, demand increases, the interactions become more frequent, and it must be stored or computed closer to where it is being consumed and supported. We believe that the cloud has four walls, and it is called a data center. Cloud services are everywhere and are dependent upon them along with the expectation it is always on and will never go down. It requires robust infrastructure everywhere that needs to be managed.
The next big challenge we are focused on is how do tomorrow’s high-powered AI/ML and HPC (High Performance Compute) platforms behave across networks, in data centers with their increasing power and cooling demand and what will it mean for a data center operator. The landscape is changing and where the average cabinet of computer servers consumes 4–6kW of power, next generation computing platform equipment consumes 20–50kW per cabinet. The challenge for operators like DC BLOX is to create flexible environments in power, cooling, network bandwidth at an affordable price to enable these platforms. It is a big challenge, but we know we can solve this to meet our broader market demands.
The real impact to customers will be faster access to platforms and apps through enablement of 5G technologies and will increase the number of options customers have to process and consume data at the speed and flexibility they desire. We are already doing this in a few of our facilities. However in order to do this at scale across all our facilities, it will take engineering prowess and time. We are on the right path to solving this challenge for our customers.
How do you think this might change the world?
We live in a connected world that is always on, always connected and has to be instantaneous. Technology is responsible for making this possible and we all feel it when it is not available. The world is also becoming more and more interconnected and with data compounding year over year everything from IoT embedded devices to everyday devices are all getting smarter, faster and more compact. It is and will continue to impact the world for decades to come and the next impact is from space. I am not sure all of it is for the good of mankind, but people will have more choices, better connectivity and access to every part of the world seamlessly.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Every part of life that we live is now being connected to technology in data centers. Smart cities are being deployed with active cameras everywhere, intelligent streetlights, trash, water, utilities, localized internet, life safety with body cameras, self-driving vehicles and virtually every device imaginable with an IoT sensor. Personalized medicine through genomic research is accelerating for advanced medical treatments and wearables for primary care, monitoring every part of our bodies.
The fact is everything is connected and how much access you actually want to provide may not be your choice and how we pay for all this access is certainly going to result in higher taxes, surcharges and fees for access. We often quote around our office and in consultation with customers “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” when it comes to placing everything into cloud services, automating complex processes with expensive technology and always having access to all your data in millisecond increments. Technology comes at a cost and the cost is not always money.
Data centers like those deployed by DC BLOX have an environmental impact which needs to be driven to a zero-carbon footprint. We at DC BLOX take this seriously and look for ways to offset or eliminate our impact to the environment through buying renewable energy, planting trees to off-set carbon and being smart about the technologies we deploy.
Also time engaging with each other while we are not on devices builds lifelong relationships rather than with the devices we all carry. Censorship plays a huge role in shaping opinions blurring the lines to what is fact, what is opinion and what is must have versus nice to have in influencing opinions. The world in many ways needs to find the right balance to unplug, refresh and recharge in a good balance of technology or we all turn into over-connected robots without personalities.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
We created a market-by-market data score investment model which was the quantitative data analysis on traditional market sizing and attributes specific to the services we sell. The real tipping point was when we performed the qualitative analysis and listened to potential customers, market leaders, network operators and interacted with the heartbeat of a community. When we realized this was happening in more than one market, we knew this was the tipping point to accelerate the business.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
It is already happening across the NFL markets, now into the secondary markets with explosive population growth which will be followed by any city/MSA with less than 250,000 people. It all comes down to application demand and the number of eyeballs consuming the content on a local level. The more we consume, the more data centers in all sized markets will need to be deployed. The challenge is cost to build, speed to market, dependency on the network for the applications and the amount of data consumption on a market-by-market basis.
The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?
Virtually everyone on the planet was subject to some form of lock down, shelter in place or changed our behaviors to become less socially interactive. Through these activities, we all became more isolated, but we used technologies like chat, video conferencing, ordering on-line and all types of digital purchasing to interact.
The pandemic changed behaviors, some for the good as we all spent more time with family but also the long-term effects of overworking in the home office, social tensions, relying on technology to deliver news which has its own embedded bias.
I’m not smart enough nor have I spent enough time to research all of the human behaviors that have been exposed because of the pandemic that will need to be addressed. Time will be needed to evaluate data and the human impact.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Listen more than you speak, and people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
- Learning and investments in continuing education is something that you should engage in over a lifetime.
- Review data from multiple sources and verify your golden gut feelings to prove or disprove your theory with people at all levels before you take action.
- Be patient with money but quick to act as uncommon opportunities don’t typically knock twice
- Create a vision statement for yourself. Mine is “Be Humble, Have Passion for what you do, Believe in Yourself, Listen Intently, Learn Continuously, Live Graciously and Lead with Character.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Go back to using your common sense in assessing any situation and do not believe everything you read. Do your homework, ask questions across multiple groups, get involved if you want to make a difference and respectfully challenge the status quo on issues that challenge your instincts.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can connect with me @juphues or follow our work @DCBLOXinc on Twitter. Additionally, you can connect with me on LinkedIn or just follow our progress at DCBLOX.com
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.