When Tim Williams founded Digital West Networks in September 1998, Google was in its infancy and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school. Yet, Williams envisioned a big future for the Internet — and for the San Luis Obispo County business community.
Williams’ vision proved prescient, and it has propelled the growth of Digital West Networks. Since its inception as an Internet service provider, it has grown from a handful of servers located in a closet to a 2,000-square-foot data center at the company’s current offices in San Luis Obispo.
Digital West has 27 employees and a list of clients that range from small- and medium-sized local businesses to Fortune 500 companies such as Amazon-San Luis Obispo and PG&E. The bulk of its client base is located within San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, but it also serves businesses as far away as Europe and Australia.
Digital West’s service offerings have expanded to include various data infrastructure services. This includes colocation, where a company stores its servers at the Digital West data center and utilizes its bandwidth. The company also offers cloud services, which are Internet-based hosted services such as data storage, website hosting, and remote backup. Other offerings include network management and consulting services.
Digital West Networks’ connectivity services have grown along with the company. Traditional Internet connections made over digital subscriber line (DSL) or coaxial cable, are served over copper telephone lines, which Williams said creates a “bottleneck.”
“Each year, technology can get a little faster over the copper, but it’s not kept up with demand,” he said.
Fiber optics, on the other hand, have the capacity to “deliver the fastest speeds possible on the globe,” said Williams. Consequently, Digital West has built its own metro fiber network throughout the city of San Luis Obispo, “bringing the fiber directly to the building,” to bypass potential bottlenecks, he said.
Between 2005 and 2014, Digital West expanded its points of presence, or Internet access points, to include San Jose, Los Angeles, New York, and Sydney, Australia.
“With this global network, we can build private Wide Area Networks (networks that span a large geographical area) for our clients with multiple facilities across the planet, that give these clients faster connectivity and improved security to each of their locations,” said Williams.
Although he declined to disclose financial information, Williams said the company is profitable and “has been every year with few exceptions.” He also noted that its revenue has grown by double digits over the past five years, with an average of 20 percent growth year-over-year for the past three years.
The company has historically seen the most growth after releasing new services. Williams believes this will be the case with the expansion of Digital West Networks’ metro fiber network through a partnership with the city of Grover Beach that was finalized earlier this year. That network is expected to go online early next year, with pre-sales to Grover Beach businesses set to start soon.
“We hope to serve every business in Grover Beach with our new fiber services,” said Williams, adding that there are many more such agreements in the works.
Another key development in July of this year was a partnership with Green Data Centers in Switzerland, giving its customers access to Digital West’s data center, in exchange for allowing Digital West customers access to its Data Center in Zurich. Similar arrangements are in place with Australian telecommunications firms AAPT and Telstra, as well as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, TW Telecom and Norcast. Such partnerships are critical to serving companies with a widespread customer base. “The more we use Cloud infrastructure, the more important it is that we put resources in the areas closest to our customers’ customers,” Williams explained.
Digital West Networks, beginnings
Over the next decade, Williams envisions expanding his business model to other parts of California. “But I wouldn’t count on our philosophy, our SLO presence, or our ambition to change,” he said.
Williams believes Digital West has both benefitted from, and contributed to, the growth of the San Luis Obispo County business community.
“When we started Digital West, there was a definite void in business Internet service offerings for local businesses,” he said. He noted that the success of the businesses served by Digital West “fostered other tech and high-growth startups, capitalizing on the resources of our region.”
While partnerships with technology powerhouses have driven the growth of Digital West Networks, more modest alliances closer to home have also been vital to its success. The company provides free web and e-mail hosting to over 75 nonprofit organizations in San Luis Obispo County. “Our involvement and support of our community has built bonds between our staff and the people we serve every day,” said Williams. “It’s the only way we’d want to do business, and we’re excited to expand our model to serve other communities.”
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