It is impossible to ignore the fact Carl Grivner is an extremely large man – with possibly the firmest handshake in the world – when I meet him for a short interview (and press conference) in Berlin ahead of an event around the Berlinale film festival. Grivner has been the CEO of Colt Technology Services for just over a year and is on a mission to “take back Colt to the days of yesteryear” and to make it a disrupter again.
Colt, which provides high bandwidth services for enterprises and customers in Europe, Asia and North America intends to plunge more than €200m ($210m) – from investor Fidelity – into the business this year. The plan, explains Grivner, is to increase the size of the physical network, double its sales people and improve the overall customer experience. “It is a very focused strategy,” he says, and it is in execution mode.
Over the last few years Colt has had a rather turbulent time in the face of declining revenues. This has seen it restructure and regroup with an announcement in mid-2015 that it would entirely exit the IT services market. Now the emphasis is firmly on the network itself and a big part of this is software-defined networking (SDN) which, in practice, means that customers can get the bandwidth they need as they see fit.
Once the hardware is in place the software can be overlaid on the top, explains Grivner. And while “people didn’t know what SDN was five years ago” that situation has now changed. The first clear use case for bandwidth-on-demand, he says, is disaster recovery where in the wake of a natural event, like a hurricane, the necessary capacity can easily be directed where needed. The second most obvious use case is security, where the growing volume of attacks like DDoS, threaten to grind a network to its knees.
Back in 2015 Capacity Media did an in-depth profile on Grivner and his pioneering work in software-defined networking during his previous tenure at Pacnet. Today Grivner highlights that he is taking the same approach with Colt. The difference at Pacnet was he was tasked to implement a strategy to sell the company – Pacnet was sold to Telstra for $697 (then sold on again less than a year later) – “here the mission was to develop a company,” he explains.
Colt it is specifically looking to target bandwidth hungry companies, says Grivner and is “not classifying [potential customers] as big or small but as bandwidth eaters”. There are a lot of things happening in the Internet of Things that will increase the need for bandwidth, he adds. This will naturally involve some work in Silicon Valley but the real emphasis is on Europe and Asia with a stress on cities with a high proportion of startups like London, Berlin and Singapore.
“The US is not a big focus [in terms of Colt owning its own infrastructure],” says Grivner. This is because it has “already gone through that evolution.” Yet the concerted push in Asia is an interesting – and clearly savvy one – as, this market is a particular challenge for many western companies due to obvious cultural differences and vast geographical distribution. Over the next few months Colt will be enhancing its metro area networks in Singapore and Hong Kong, creating fully-owned fibre networks in key Asian cities.
“What I learned is that Asia is a vast market and not well understood,” says Grivner – people don’t think of that vastness – “[but] you are dealing with thousands of miles.” There is already an impressive network of undersea cables into the Asian continent and this is set to increase with “a lot of subsea cables are being built or about to be built over the next five years,” says Grivner.
Colt also acquired KVH Japan at the end of 2014 which makes it the only network provider in Hong Kong, Singapore, Osaka and Tokyo. “We are the only one in all four locations,” says Grivner. All this is significant because “80% of companies in Asia are high bandwidth compared to 60% in Europe,” he adds.
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