Software Development

Data centers offer tech companies security and accessibility. Here’s how vXchnge is doing that in the Strip District

The national company opened its local data center in 2015 — according to cofounder Ernest Sampera, back when people still asked, "why Pittsburgh?"

The data room in vXchnge's Pittsburgh data center.

(Courtesy photo)

Cybersecurity and broadband access is an increasingly important consideration for companies, given recent ransomware attacks and a global internet outage of major websites due to cloud computing service issues. The virtual nature of life during the pandemic has also put an increased strain on internet support systems, prompting bigger discussions of online security, safety and accessibility.

These are the types of problems that vXchnge cofounder, CMO and Business Development Officer Ernest Sampera wants to solve. Launched in 2013, vXchnge currently operates nine edge colocation data centers, including one 20,000-square-foot location in Pittsburgh’s Strip District that opened in 2015. It’s one of several data center operators in the region and boasts clients such as IT service provider Shield ITSM and cloud hosting and security service provider Ideal Integrations.

Full reliance on the cloud, Sampera said, can put companies at risk of encountering service issues and security threats that could be avoided by using a data center.

“What we’re finding is that companies are coming back with some in the cloud, some in a data center, and that becomes the hybrid,” he said.

In essence, data centers are places where companies can store just that: the vast amounts of data required for daily operations, transactions and other applications. Today’s data centers often have three key components — a network to connect data to end users, a way of storing all relevant data and a computing system to help process that data as needed. Some companies operate in-house data centers to maintain full control over their IT infrastructure, while others choose to outsource it to a center like vXchnge.

Keeping the lights on

Modern data centers are technically sophisticated and costly to maintain, Sampera said, due to their compliance, security, power and upkeep needs.

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“It becomes a capital-intensive business that [companies] shouldn’t be in,” he said.

The vXchnge Pittsburgh location has an advanced security system, including fingerprint scanners, unique passcodes, physical ID verification, security cameras and a 24/7 staff of technicians monitoring activity. In addition to these protections, vXchnge also ensures that its centers are all compliant with necessary certifications like ISO 27001 and HIPAA. All of this is to ensure that sensitive customer data is well-protected, said Senior Site Manager Kurtis Huggins told this reporter during a recent tour of the facility.

The center also does its best to protect the data room from any power outages. In addition to the main utility line, the vXchnge Pittsburgh center also has two generators (one primary, one backup), and a backup uninterruptible power system (UPS). The building also has connections to a diverse range of carriers to suit customer needs, and ensure backup options should one of the connections temporarily fail due to nearby road construction or weather.

Huggins also emphasized comprehensive protections against fire hazards like a dry pipe sprinkler system, combustible particulate monitoring system, cooling devices placed strategically throughout the main data room and temperature sensors on the data cabinets. Even considering the event of a fire, he pointed out that few materials in the data room were combustible and that the center’s team routinely checks the room for anything that might be.

Customers of vXchnge are able to come into the center and plug into their cabinets for maintenance work, data management or any other technical needs. Those who can’t physically come in, or who would rather handle it remotely, can do so through the company’s in/site platform, which tracks all customer requests and activity, and allows technicians to assist on-site as needed.

It’s a lot, but the company’s leaders argue that the measures vXchnge takes to ensure data security and accessibility for customers aren’t merely nice benefits, but modern necessities of any center.

Why Pittsburgh

When the Pittsburgh vXchnge center first opened, Sampera got a lot of “why Pittsburgh?” queries. “Now, no one’s asking that anymore,” he said.

He thinks that has to do with Pittsburgh’s burgeoning tech scene, and its dense population of small businesses and entrepreneurs. vXchnge first chose Pittsburgh because of trends that suggested a growth in tech here, and the high-speed connectivity those companies might require — including advanced technology like autonomation.

The increasing presence of research and development of just such technology in Pittsburgh is what drew Sampera and vXchnge here.

“Startups are born in the cloud,” he said, but as they grow, so do their data storage needs. Pittsburgh “is very good at growing, and when it continues to grow — which it is — by definition, you serve Pittsburgh from Pittsburgh; you don’t serve Pittsburgh from New York.”


Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: vXchnge
People: Ernest Sampera
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