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An Interview with RKON’s CEO Jeff Mullarkey

RKON Relies on Zayo Colocation as it Expands in Europe

Jeff Mullarkey is cofounder and CEO of RKON. Under his leadership, RKON has grown to become one of the nation’s premier IT transformation service providers. A broad range of Fortune 2000 companies turn to RKON to solve their toughest IT challenges. In 2014, RKON was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of the 500 fastest growing private companies. CRN also ranks the company among the Top 500 Solution Providers in America. We recently had the opportunity to ask Jeff about the growth of his business, trends in the industry and his experience expanding RKON in Europe with the support of zColo.

Tell us about RKON and the growth of your business.

RKON started off as a consulting firm helping clients through complex IT change. Our primary focus was security, compliance and infrastructure around mission critical applications. We found that most clients do OK with the basics, but many struggle with complex infrastructure solutions. The struggles come from hiring and retaining specialty skill sets, along with keeping up with the evolution and maintenance of those solutions.

So 15 years ago, our clients started asking us to take over those complex solutions and management. About 10 years ago, those same clients recognized they were better off handing us all their IT to manage so they could get back to focusing on their primary business. Happily, we found that once we could manage the complex stuff, the rest is easy.

At the same time, we began to find tremendous success in assisting Private Equity Firms with M&A activities. The combination of our IT transformation consulting practice and a proven near 5 x 9’s operational model enabled us to take on carve-outs, which are the most complex M&A transactions. Our clients said we made it look easy. (I assure you, it is not easy.) They also said we were the first company that consistently met deadlines while remaining on budget. Since then, we have focused our business development efforts in expanding our private equity customer base as our primary growth strategy.

What trends are you seeing in IT?

It goes without saying that movement to the cloud is the predominant trend across all verticals. There was an implied promise that this was going to simplify IT while reducing cost. Fulfilling that promise has been challenging.

Clients have found that many major cloud offerings lack maturity. Organizations end up having IT resources in two places and half the resources they started with to serve the most complex elements that most cloud solutions cannot accommodate. In addition, inexpensive cloud providers may look attractive on the service but lack mature security options. So anything that requires compliance or security in depth is often left behind for the legacy IT team to manage.

As a result, we are seeing a huge opportunity to replace first-generation cloud providers with a mature, open standards offering that works with anything while also providing in-depth security options. With our next generation cloud, we can offer a cost-effective “Compliance-as-a-Service” model that moves us from helping reach the outcome to taking ownership for the outcome. We believe our pioneering IT model is at the cusp of a trend toward quality that will finally deliver the outcomes the cloud originally promised.

Tell us about the circumstance that led you to your original search for colocation services?

Our original data center was in a world-class location, but it was very expensive. As RKON developed a disaster recovery (DR) solution, we began looking for a secondary site. That’s when we came across what ultimately became Zayo’s Oakbrook zColo location.

Though Chicago gets cold in the winter, it has a very low incidence of natural disasters, which gives us a head start on the uptime game. It also happens to be at the geographical center of the internet for North America, both north-south and east-west. Initially we chose the Zayo facility because their location was well-built and sat on two different power grids. As we grew, our uptime and cost efficiency led us to moving our primary data center to the zColo location.

Zayo’s Pod build-out strategy has been revolutionary in maximizing the ever-changing equation of power, footprint and HVAC. After we moved our primary datacenter to the Zayo facility, we moved our DR facility to Zayo’s Colorado location. Since then, both locations serve as primary active datacenters and DR facilities for each other.

RKON’s next generation technology stack combined with Zayo’s world-class zColo facilities has delivered a near five 9’s in uptime for our client base over the last 10 years, while maintaining a cost competitive solution compared to other market leaders.

Were there any specific technical challenges you were trying to solve with Zayo’s solutions?

RKON is a fast-growing company on the leading edge of the industry. We needed a partner like Zayo that could keep up with our trajectory from a technology, cost and expansion standpoint. After moving datacenter providers three to four times early on, we haven’t even thought about changing due to Zayo’s commitment to market-leading offerings.

We have been impressed by their ability to evolve their operation without compromising uptime. Zayo has also continued an aggressive expansion plan that has allowed RKON to have reach and footprint anywhere in the world where our clients are going. As RKON was looking to expand in Europe, we once again found Zayo had just what we were looking for.

You’ve procured space in the zColo Velizy data center in the Paris area. How will that enable your expansion plans?

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was the primary driver behind our formal cloud expansion to the European Union (EU). The Velizy datacenter was a natural fit as the first step of our EU expansion plans. We are already serving numerous European clients but were cautious about expanding our cloud offering unless we were sure we could maintain our brand of high performance.

Staying within the powerful Zayo network allowed us to seamlessly extend our Next Generation Cloud and Compliance Ready Cloud solutions to a critical market. RKON has created a compliance-ready solution that our clients can move into to solve their compliance needs from PCI to HITRUST. Now those same clients can extend that market leading approach to the EU footprint.

The globalization of our clients’ businesses has made this a table stakes initiative for us. We think we are going to have a significant competitive advantage by offering our Private Equity clients this as data sovereignty increases in importance.

Why did you choose zColo over other colocation providers?

The ethics and reliability of Zayo has earned our trust. We went into our first location with Zayo 10 years ago and haven’t yet had an outage. We have watched Zayo grow into a world-wide powerhouse, but they still provide the same outstanding service every day. They have mastered the balance of serving our clients’ needs while providing a breadth and depth of offerings and locations. All told, we have been able to build a multi-tenant cloud offering that has the security of a private build combined with the cost and scalability of the large public cloud providers.

Has the solution yielded any unanticipated surprises?

Zayo’s expanding presence gives us quick and easy expansion anywhere. Zayo is also very flexible in terms of size of deals. Their colo mixture matches with our cloud. They offer a dynamic consumption model that can change with the ebb and flow of RKON’s growth model.

What advice would you give to other businesses considering international expansion?

My biggest advice is to look past your current needs to where the market is going and keep an open mind. RKON tends to be on the conservative side in decision-making. We like to make small steps that enable us to learn, so that each evolutionary step is an improvement over the last one. In the process, we’ve learned you can’t do everything on your own. It’s too complex. So finding like-minded partners committed to continuous improvement and market adaptation are the key ingredients to success.

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