When Tom Mertz was first approached two years ago to become the CEO of Canara, a provider of predictive analytics and services for data centers, he was asked if he’d be willing to relocate to San Francisco, which was the nearest big city to the company’s corporate headquarters in San Rafael, California.
“I’ve been in Atlanta throughout my entire career. I grew up in Atlanta. I said no,” Mertz told Hypepotamus.
Then Canara’s equity investor sponsors, Columbia Capital, floated the idea of moving the corporate headquarters to the East Coast, and Atlanta, in particular, due to the concentration of businesses on this side of the country. Would Mertz like that plan better?
“The answer was, of course, yes.”
Even though Mertz and two other C-level executives have been based here since then, Canara officially announced the move March 8th. San Rafael is now Canara’s West Coast hub, and Atlanta chalks up another business win. But to hear Mertz, a 22-year veteran of the data center industry describe it, the real victory is Canara’s thanks to the technologies that have powered Atlanta’s overall business growth.
“Atlanta’s telecom infrastructure is second to none,” Mertz said. “It’s one of the leading interconnected cities, especially on the East Coast. Also, Georgia’s power infrastructure is one of the most reliable grids in the country, and the price per kilowatt per hour is very reasonable.”
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was high on Mertz’s list of factors that prompted the corporate HQ move, as was the ability to attract top IT talent.
“We’re not a big company, but we’re big enough to provide a good career path, especially if it’s a younger employee,” he said. “In Atlanta there’s a lot of competition, but we still find the cost to acquire employees in the Southeast is better substantially for the company than the Bay Area. I haven’t had difficulty convincing folks to relocate to Atlanta, whether from the Northeast or the West Coast.”
If those prospective employees say yes to Canara, they’ll find themselves at a company that has a lot in common with Mertz: Both have had a front row seat for the growth of the data center industry over the past 20 years, and both have seen data become the currency of the Information Age.
First known as Data Power Monitoring Corporation, and then IntelliBatt, Canara’s focus has been on minimizing data center downtime via better monitoring of backup power systems. The company’s clients use redundancies upon redundancies to keep their facilities humming along, but those can cost a lot of money. Canara’s solution involves the ability to predict when problems will happen rather than reacting to downtime issues. “Everybody’s trying to get return on capital dollars, but building in more redundancies isn’t going to be the way to do it, you’re still going to have to have uptime,” Mertz said.
A new Canara product due later this year will require no upfront capital, and will still allow a client to go in and predict when components of their data center systems will fail. “It’s interesting how the industry is changing and what people are focused on. To me, predictive technology is the next big wave.”
That approach has gained Canara about 100 customers including Fidelity Investments, CenturyLink, PG&E, Cologix, Digital Realty Trust, and Equinix. Mertz said the company expects to have 20 employees by the end of the year, with some of those new staffers dedicated to sales.
“We’re spending time and money making sure we’re branding ourselves properly, talking about what we do and our value proposition,” Mertz said. A previous goal of targeting more enterprises remains in effect for 2016. “What I continue to see over and over again is that enterprises are looking for more efficient ways to manage their data centers. They’re not as concerned with upfront capital as a co-location type company, but they’re certainly concerned about uptime and preserving their operating budgets.”
Many of the prospective clients that Mertz meets with are also asking about security, and “that’s going to be a tremendous focus going forward.” Customers will have to know how to protect themselves regarding data coming in and leaving their facilities. “As we get more technology-dependent, as we utilize more software and high-tech tools, we have to make sure we’re protecting our tools and ourselves.”
That sentiment is especially true in Atlanta, which has been fertile ground for data centers thanks to the economic growth underway with both startup companies and legacy businesses. Mertz uses healthcare as an example: Larger hospital chains are “consolidating and buying up traditional small regional hospitals. “When you do that, you’ve got to consolidate the data, and they’re either building the data centers themselves or outsourcing them.
“I think as we become more and more reliant on data and immediate information, you’re going to continue to see that growth” in Atlanta, Mertz said.