Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

February 16, 2020 | Tom Ballard

SH Data Technologies is another magnet for technology-based economic development in the region

An idea that started incubating 16 or 17 years ago has come to fruition with the official opening of the new SH Data Technologies facility just east of Knoxville’s Old City.

The Tier IV data center – one of only five in the country – represents a multi-million dollar investment in what Butch Smith expects to become another magnet for technology-based economic development in the region. Smith visualizes companies relocating to the region because of the technological capabilities Imbedded in the facility and locally-founded enterprises with large storage requirements being able to scale their businesses much faster because of those same capabilities.

And, besides the 424 racks that have been initially installed and could quickly be expanded to 1600 as soon as needed, the facility also has office space to lease to companies “that need to have a hands-on presence,” as Smith describes them. Those clients are likely to be in healthcare, financial areas or manufacturing.

“They cannot afford any downtime,” he says. “They must be up 24/7 (around the clock) and 365 (every day of the year).”

You get the picture; this is something special, and it is an idea that has expanded significantly over the years as the personable Smith has learned more about the burgeoning data storage needs of companies. That knowledge was imbued in planning for the old Fort Hill Building, renamed The FORT.

“We have two (electricity) feeds directly from KUB which are fed by TVA and have never been down at the same time,” the Chief Executive Officer says, adding that the two feeds come from different TVA power plants. SH Data Technologies expects to eventually have eight telecommunications providers with dual routes in and out of a networking peering points.

For Smith, who grew-up in Franklin, TN and played football at Tennessee Tech University before transferring to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), it’s been a lifetime of learning to “stay on the cutting edge.”

After graduating from UTK, he stayed in Knoxville, went into banking and started a family, later partnering with Nashville-based Richards & Richards to form Smith & Richards in Knoxville. The new company eventually became Smith & Hammaker.

“I looked at what we did as more than just documents,” Smith told us in late 2019 as we toured The FORT and listened to his vision. He talked about the evolution of fax machines, scanners and the need corporations had for significant digital storage.

In reviewing his career, Smith laughed frequently, particularly when he described how he learned an important lesson about electronic document storage. “We crashed a healthcare facility’s computer system because we had not anticipated how much storage was needed,” he said of the early years of Smith & Richards. “That’s when the idea (SH Data Technologies) started incubating.”

When Smith thought he was going to have to relocate Smith & Hammaker from its North Broadway location, he bought the vacant Fort Hill Building in 2015. That need never came to fruition. Then, in 2017, he sold his interest in Smith & Hammaker to focus his energies exclusively on the new data center.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur looking for the next challenge,” Smith says with a gleam in his eye. That said, he also admitted that he “was never thinking this size” when he first visualized SH Data Technologies. In fact, the initial plans were for a Tier III facility.

“Tier IV will be a calling card,” Smith says. “It’s also our geographic location that is going to make us attractive to customers.”

There is additional space to further expand SH Data Technologies’ footprint. With a dreamer like Smith, you can expect that to happen.