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Internet exchange poised to ramp up South Carolina's connectivity

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S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster addresses a crowd assembled at 701 Whaley Street on Wednesday to learn details of DartPoints' plans for South Carolina's first internet exchange. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)

The average internet user probably doesn’t give much thought to how information shared or requested arrives at its final destination.  

But in South Carolina, that process is about to undergo a significant change.  

DartPoints, an owner and operator of 11 edge colocation data centers in six states, is creating the state’s first internet exchange. The exchange will allow internet infrastructure companies such as service providers and content delivery networks to connect with each other, shortening the routes data travels, increasing efficiency and potentially reducing costs. 

“This is the first step in creating a state, in the state of South Carolina, that is internet-independent,” DartPoints CEO Scott Willis said during an announcement of the internet exchange, called Bridge IX, in Columbia on Wednesday. “The internet exchange is the central hub for all content and applications to reach businesses, schools and homes. The internet exchange will allow companies of all sizes to bring their services into South Carolina, which will improve performance, increase access and lower costs to further bridge the digital divide across the state.”  

An internet exchange allows a state to stop importing and exporting data, Willis said when a similar program was launched in Iowa in June.  

Internet exchange points serve as a digital train conductor, routing traffic between different member networks. ISPs and CDNs exist of the “edge” of networks and allow network providers to share transit outside of their individual networks. Inside an internet exchange point, those companies can talk directly to each other.  

“We’re building a digital airport,” Willis said. “If I’m in Charleston and I want to fly to Greenville, digitally, I’ve got to fly to Charlotte, I’ve got to fly to Atlanta, I’ve got to fly to Northern Virginia, I’ve got to fly to Dallas, I’ve got to fly to Chicago to connect and then drop back into Greenville. We’re eliminating that. If you’re in Charleston, we’re going to make you digitally (able to) connect into Greenville, and we’re going to do it in a way that is more competitive, more cost-effective, and enables not only the businesses here but the businesses that are looking to come here to leverage that as they look to be more competitive for their customers inside the state.” 

The new technology of Bridge IX will be coupled with DartPoints’ Liquid Edge, the state’s first two-phase liquid immersion cloud solutions delivery platform, to further boost South Carolina’s internet efficacy.  

A two-phase immersion cooling system submerges electronic components at data centers in a bath of dielectric heat transfer liquid, which conducts heat better than air, water or oil, and is nonflammable and environmentally friendly. No pumps or jets are required to cool the hardware, resulting in a 90% efficiency advantage compared to air cooling, according to technology website gigabtye.com. 

In addition, eliminating heat sinks and cooling fans means computing parts can be closer together, which can increase computing power as much as tenfold. Components not subject to temperature variations are also less likely to failure and require less maintenance.   

All of those advantages can combine to decrease a company's downtime, or latency, in tech terminology. 

“Whether it’s artificial intelligence, whether it’s autonomous vehicles, whether it’s agricultural, whether it’s industrial  if you think about where businesses are going and the demands of those use cases, they’re far more latency-sensitive than what current uses cases are today,” Willis said. “South Carolina has a heavy manufacturing base and infrastructure from a business perspective. Three, four, five and 10 years ago, in manufacturing, it was all about employees on a manufacturing floor handling that process. Today, and where it’s going in the future, it’s all about robotics.  

“Robotics requires a quick turn. They can’t afford much latency. The ability to enable this technology so that you don’t have to make a trip all the way up to Northern Virginia  we’re going to enable that flight here in the state  is a huge competitive advantage.” 

Areas of the state dependent on rural internet providers also stand to benefit from the increased access and potential savings of an internet exchange, DartPoints executives said.  

“South Carolina right now is a state that doesn’t have any direct connectivity to the internet,” said DartPoints Chief Technology Officer Brad Alexander, who has seen positive effects of internet exchanges in large cities. "We're trying to bring that rich technology and the ecosystem that comes with it to an entire state. So instead of it just being a regional or a city presence, we’re bringing that type of connectivity to the state. When we bring that kind of connectivity to a state, we can get regional and national influences  business people, technologies, technologists  into our state to help our innovation efforts.” 

Danny Dorsel, president of the S.C. Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, and Bob Quinn, executive director of the South Carolina Research Authority, were among those eager to reap the rewards of direct internet connectivity. Quinn extolled the advantages connecting businesses directly to technology could have for the state’s advanced manufacturing industry, while Dorsel envisioned more reliable learning tools and increased access to them for the hundreds of on-campus and online students his school serves.  

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster praised DartPoints, a Dallas-based company that acquired Greenville-based Immedion earlier this year, for bringing cutting-edge technology to the state.   

“Things have changed so fast and it’s just going faster and faster, but fortunately, because of these kinds of investments and this kind of thinking and this kind of vision, we’re able to keep up with it and stay ahead,” McMaster said. “It’s like riding that wave in the ocean. If you miss it, you miss it, but if you catch it just right, it will take you way on up. We’ve got to keep catching those waves.” 

Since moving into South Carolina, DartPoints has made capital investments totaling $120 million in its four data centers in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville and Spartanburg, with 70% of its employees now located in the Palmetto State, Willis said. He said DartPoints supports 275 clients statewide who represent 140,000 jobs and $60 billion in annual revenue.  

“We want to support the growth and the ambitions of this state through the use of technology,” Willis said. “It (the internet exchange) is a win-win for both. We’re investing in a way that creates a benefit to the state but it also creates a benefit for DartPoints, as we want to attract enterprise and higher education and users into our environment.” 

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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