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A lot of companies are storing their data in Tampa Bay area, even with hurricane threat

TAMPA — Few industries list redundancy as a key word in their marketing materials.

But in a world increasingly ruled by the Internet and online commerce, the market for data security, reliability and storage is blossoming. In the Central Florida area centered on Tampa Bay, 23 facilities house 267,000 square feet of servers, air conditioners and generators designed to protect companies' networks and information from everything from hackers to hurricanes, according to 451 Research, an information technology research and advisory company.

Industry leaders are confident that growth will continue at a steady pace for years.

"The last couple of years we have really seen it pick up," said Graham Williams, chief operating officer at Cologix, which operates a 105,000-square-foot facility in Lakeland that primarily caters to businesses in the Tampa Bay area.

Williams attributes the growth to companies deciding that housing their own servers has become too expensive and difficult to maintain. Servers are programs and computers that drive a company's online operation and store information.

"The ability to scale easily and quickly (with a data center) has been a huge advantage for us," said John Dalrymple, president of Mobex Inc., which provides phone services to small and medium-sized companies.

Mobex housed its servers internally for years. "It was very modest," Dalrymple said. "I've always liked the feeling of having the hardware where I can touch it and see it and know it's there, but that became a real challenge."

As his business grew, however, it was too difficult to continue to house servers on-site, so Mobex turned to Tampa-based Hivelocity.

"It is much cheaper," he said. "We ultimately would have had to hire staff to maintain those servers." Because of that and the additional costs of power and a high-speed network, it made more sense to outsource to a company that could provide 24-hour support as well as the best possible connection.

Dalrymple said he needed servers to be within a close range of his clients in Tampa, allowing an immediate dial tone when customers pick up the phone at their desks. "Because our servers are local, the connections are very close," he explained.

Data centers have historically been focused on Fortune 500 companies in the major U.S. markets like New York, Miami, San Francisco and Dallas. But the high cost of land, energy and labor in those areas has allowed growth into smaller markets. That, and demand from smaller companies to outsource their data storage, has spawned more diverse growth.

Steve Eschweiler, director of operations for Hivelocity, said that the days of companies housing their own networks out of a server in their storage closet or otherwise on-site are over.

"Ten years ago, 15 years ago, the amount of commerce you did on your computer was minimal. If it went down, your business wasn't shut down until it is back up," Eschweiler said. "Now you have your contracts digitally, all your sensitive communication in your office is through email. All the data in that closet is invaluable, and it's pretty insecure."

Although that is not the biggest factor driving businesses to make the switch, company leaders like Dalrymple said the added protection is a welcome benefit.

For a subscription service, companies can lease servers in giant warehouses like the one built on Park Ridge Drive in Tampa by Peak 10 of Charlotte N.C. The nearly 20,000-square-foot facility has on-site security, around-the-clock video monitoring, biometric fingerprint readers, lightning protection systems — and raised subfloors and reinforced steel walls built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

To provide an even higher level of protection if something were to happen to the Tampa servers, companies can pay extra to have information synched with other data centers around the world.

In September, Peak 10 opened the doors of its third Tampa location. Chief executive officer David Jones said he anticipates Peak 10 will break ground on a fourth location within the next several years.

For smaller companies, data centers need to be within 20 miles of the businesses they serve because it allows nearly instant communication with their servers. For example, a Tampa-based customer visiting a website hosted on a server in St. Petersburg will have faster access than a customer in Seattle.

Still, there's always risk. So why would coastal Florida — and the threat of monster hurricanes — be an ideal setting for data centers?

"We would argue that there's always some risk. You're just trading off which risk you like," Williams said.

In some states, tornadoes could be a risk. Or in Northern states, a blizzard

Compared to Miami, Tampa has a relatively low hurricane risk. But there are other factors in play helping to draw in data centers such as low energy costs, inexpensive land costs and the ability to attract a qualified workforce.

Tampa trails only Miami when it comes to the prevalence of data centers in Florida. However, Jacksonville is poised for tremendous growth: In September, it tapped into a new subsea cable network, giving it direct access to the South American market.

Stefanie Beaubien Williams, an analyst at 451 Research, said that about 75 percent of the demand for data center services comes from local businesses — a promising statistic for the industry.

"Over the last few years, the market in Tampa has matured with greater redundancy on infrastructure and development of managed services, and this will help attract demand from outside the market," she said in an email.

She anticipates more and more of these facilities will pop up in the Tampa area for the next three to five years. Data center companies recognize that as well, but for the time being, there is little concern when it comes to market saturation, said Williams of Cologix.

"There's enough demand to go around," he said.

Contact Alli Knothe at Follow @knothea.