Enabling Your Digital Future – 20 years and Counting

Equinix CEO remembers how a bold vision for global interconnection became reality

I first heard about Equinix from the two men who were trying to get the company off the ground.

It was late 1999, and I was working for UUNET, one of the leading Internet backbone providers, when Equinix founders Jay Adelson and Al Avery stopped by to talk about the future of their company – and mine.

We all knew that significant, internet-fueled growth was coming. Jay and Al said that to handle that growth, UUNET needed to more effectively scale and manage our networks. They believed companies like ours could benefit from Equinix data centers that hadn’t been built yet, where networks could meet on neutral ground to exchange traffic. This model, they said, was how we could scale our infrastructure.

I was struck by the concept, and the energy behind Jay’s and Al’s vision. They spoke about it as if Equinix would one day be the steward of the internet’s infrastructure. It was a bold vision, and it turns out it was spot on.

Today, Equinix is celebrating its 20th anniversary. A lot about the company I was introduced to years ago has changed, as we’ve expanded from about two to 200 data centers. But the founding vision has endured and still drives us all these years later. Companies needed interconnection then, and they needed it badly. That’s still true today, maybe more than ever.

A model for the past and future

After that first meeting with Jay and Al, I discussed their model with the head of engineering at UUNET (which is now part of Verizon). He was unambiguous about the benefits. He told me it would save UUNET millions of dollars by transforming the way we traded traffic with other networks. He also said it would give us the ability to scale as rapidly as the internet did, since the other service providers we’d need to connect to would be right next to us, in the same data center.

Of course, we hadn’t gotten all those networks on board quite yet when I joined Equinix as CEO in May 2000 to help take the company public. That created an element of risk for everyone, but it was exciting. We worked relentlessly – and successfully – to sell our vision as the interconnection place for networks, and then pursued the big-name internet service and content companies we knew would benefit from being right next to these on-ramps to the internet. Google, Yahoo, Amazon … they all eventually became Equinix customers.

Even though we knew we had something special from the beginning, I’ve been surprised by how broadly the founding vison has applied. For example, the same approach we took with the networks played out successfully with electronic trading. The brokers, the asset managers, the actual exchanges where trades are matched up all benefitted greatly from the speed and security they found after connecting to each other inside Equinix. Our financial services ecosystem has become an essential destination for the industry, and a place where trillions of dollars are exchanged daily.

And now, of course, there’s the cloud. The cloud’s ability to serve the computing needs of so many industries has made it critical to do business, and as people explore its possibilities, the value of bringing interdependent companies together, in one place, is playing out again. Cloud service providers serve their customers over networks, which they find at Equinix. The enterprise follows, so they can connect to those cloud services and those same networks, to reach employees, customers and new markets. The need for this kind of interconnection is only growing.

As big as the possibilities for the early internet seemed, I just didn’t imagine that every company would one day become a digital company. Our initial focus was on businesses that provided services over the internet, but just recently, we brought on the Kellogg Company as a new customer. When I started with Equinix, I couldn’t have predicted that a cereal company would become a customer, but it shows how far digital has come, and the potential that still lies ahead.

Trust in a time of transformation

Sometimes when I talk to our team, I emphasize that what we really sell is trust. Clearly, our customers find value in the ecosystems we host and the reach we deliver. But at the end of the day, we are critical infrastructure in their architectures, and they need to trust us. That’s about more than providing reliability and security at our facilities, it’s also about doing whatever we can to help them develop their digital opportunities during this time of disruption. It’s about listening when they speak and responding to their needs. It’s about putting the customer at the center of everything we do.

We use the term “customer-inspired innovation” to describe our approach to developing new products and services. The Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric, a global platform on which customers can dynamically and instantly connect to each other, exists because our customers told us they wanted to connect to each other in different countries, regions or continents. SmartKey adds a layer of data security in the cloud that customers told us they needed. We will continue to deliver services imagined by our customers and reward the trust they place in us.

Equinix is always evolving, and I admit that sometimes I miss the days when I could walk across the hallway and have a significant discussion about strategy with all our leaders. But the vision Jay and Al described to me back in 1999 was always too big for a company that size. When I look to the future, I see Equinix continuing to be a place that can take any of our customers anywhere they need to be in the digital world. Digital transformation is not going to outpace the platform model, it’s going to continue to be enabled by it. Our digital platform has been helping leading businesses realize their digital futures for 20 years and counting. I look forward to discovering what’s next together.

 

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