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Ritter Communications Opens Its $8M Data Center

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Ritter Communications of Jonesboro recently opened its $8 million, 8,544-SF multiuser data and cloud storage facility in northeast Arkansas.

CEO Alan Morse said the new Ritter Communications Data Technology Center is the only facility of its kind in about a 100-mile radius. It’s also the company’s response to a nationwide trend, a gap in the northeast Arkansas market and customer demand, he said.

“Over the last 10 years, there’s been an evolution away from separately managed and private data storage or data center facilities at corporations into what we call shared infrastructure. And the reason for that is that it’s just the economics are dramatically better for a company to access shared infrastructure than to try to create a separate facility on its own,” Morse said.

“And so we put together a business case, and it makes sense. And we think, in addition to that, the data center helps us solidify our position as not just a connectivity provider, but as a strategic partner for customers.”

Ritter also built the center because its own IT infrastructure had become out of date and it needed somewhere to securely store data, Morse said. For security reasons there will be no signage at the center, and the company won’t disclose its address.

Construction began in spring 2019 and was completed on schedule, despite the pandemic. The center was designed by Cushing Terrell (formerly known as CTA Architects Engineers) of Billings, Montana, and built by Nabholz Construction of Conway.

Capacity at data centers is expressed as power capacity, Morse said. For Ritter, that is 0.75 megawatts. Based on industry trends, he said, Ritter expects the center to reach its capacity in three to four years.

Camfil APC and St. Bernards Healthcare, both headquartered in Jonesboro, are among the center’s first customers.

The center will offer customers the option to either locate their own equipment there or make use of a virtual environment set up and managed by Ritter. The result, Ritter says, is that customers save money on equipment or internal IT real estate, gain rapid implementation of increased computing and data storage resources, and benefit from Ritter’s IT management expertise in a state-of-the-art facility that would be difficult for customers to replicate.

Out-of-state businesses seeking geographic diversity — i.e., having data in multiple locations so that a natural disaster doesn’t wipe it all out — may also use the center. “So, while we built it primarily to serve northeast Arkansas, we think it’ll also have an impact in the broader region as well,” Morse said.

He expects Ritter’s data center to provide better security than something like Amazon Web Services, where data may be sent back and forth over the “public” internet. “For customers that are interested, we can provide both the connectivity and the endpoint, the data center endpoint, so we can have a totally private solution, a totally private network for that customer that handles their data as it’s being transported, and as it’s being stored and protected,” Morse said.

Other features of the data center include a network operations center that will be staffed by about 30 people 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. About eight of those jobs are new, he said.

The center has a battery-powered backup and fuel-powered backups as well, in case of a power outage, plus three separate fiber connections. If a fiber optic cable is accidentally cut by a backhoe, customers can still access the data that’s stored there through one of the other two cables, Morse said.

In addition, customers can use any internet service provider to access the center, whether that be Ritter or Windstream, AT&T, CenturyLink, etc.

With foot-thick concrete walls, steel reinforcements, a concrete roof and metal screens that can be rolled over its windows during severe weather, the center was built to withstand tornadoes and earthquakes. “So this is essentially a bunker,” Morse said.

Then there are numerous policies to ensure the building’s contents are secure. Visitors must make a reservation, be prescreened and be escorted while inside it. There are handprint scanners as well; unauthorized personnel will find themselves in a “mantrap” room where someone has to come let them out, Morse said.

The center is HIPAA, PCI (payment card industry) and SOC 2 (service organization control 2) compliant, too. “We knew that to get into the business and be credible we needed to have those certifications,” he said.

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