We continue our series on the state of the tech business climate in N.J., interviewing, via email, Thai Lee, CEO and president of SHI International Corp.
SHI is a fixture in N.J. The privately held, woman-run IT solutions provider has been located here for 23 years, growing from a $1 million regional value-added reseller (VAR) to a $3 billion global technology company. SHI has recently begun making investments that will allow it to shift to the lucrative cloud computing business. To make this transition, SHI has renovated and moved into facilities in Somerset that had been vacant for almost 10 years, ever since AT&T; left the area. The new complex, which took 15 months to renovate, serves as both a data center and the company’s headquarters.
What strikes us as impressive about SHI’s move to its new Somerset home is the firm’s investment in N.J. during a very tough time in the state’s economic history. The company made the decision to stay without any government or New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) incentives. Since 2008, SHI has created 700 new jobs globally, including over 100 highly technical positions based in New Jersey and over 200 sales and management positions in Austin, Texas, to serve an expanding global market. The company’s headquarters and data center could employ more than 1,000 people as the company grows, director of communications and marketing Ed McNamara told us. Our questions for Thai Lee:
Why was SHI established in N.J.?
When I purchased a small division of a company called Software House from a larger holding company in 1989, it was already incorporated in N.J. As the company quickly grew, staying in the state and ensuring the continuity of our business turned out to be a wise decision.
Congratulations on your new Somerset headquarters. Can you tell us about the data center?
The state-of-the-art data center was built using a series of best-of-breed, high-performance components, connected to each other for resiliency, and redundancy. The basic building blocks of computation are racks containing HP blade servers, massive amounts of storage and all required interconnections. Each blade server contains two Intel 6 Core CPUs with 96 GB of RAM and has 40 Gbps of Ethernet uplink and 16 Gbps of fiber channel uplink.
The center is connected to the outside world using a private Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) ring to provide capacity for future growth. This ring supports up to 42 wavelengths, each of which can support up to 40 Gbps of bandwidth. This allows SHI to provide low-latency, high-capacity links to customers. Customer connections to the SHI cloud are linked through private lines that run over the DWDM ring.
SHI has been quite successful as a company headquartered in N.J. What are some of the pros and cons of being located here?
There are many benefits to growing a business in central New Jersey. Located at the crossroads of the Northeast Corridor, and within 90 minutes of both New York and Philadelphia, SHI enjoys immediate access to the highest levels of both transportation and technological infrastructure. Our account executives and clients are usually one flight away from a major international airport, and our proximity to the mountains, the beach, New York City and everything in between gives us a virtually limitless array of entertainment options for employees, clients and partners.
To an IT solutions provider with a legacy of serving the Fortune 1000 and beyond, New Jersey is also home to the physical headquarters of some of the largest and most complex IT environments in the telecommunications, pharmaceutical and finance verticals, among others. With Class-A office space and a secure data center location, SHI is well-positioned to offer local IT organizations industrial-grade cloud computing solutions whose performance matches or beats that of machines operating within their own data centers.
Do you have any suggestions for Gov. Christie or the EDA about how to improve business in the state?
The high cost of living in New Jersey—fueled by high property taxes, high car insurance rates and so on—has caused a significant number of our employees to seek the benefits of living out of state, mostly in northeastern Pennsylvania. Politicians must understand that this is more than a political or financial issue: it is a quality-of-life issue for our employees. Time they spend commuting on Route 78 is time taken away from their families. In the case of a weather event or family-scheduling conflict, employees who drive well over an hour each way on increasingly congested highways often face hard choices regarding how to manage work-life balance, and these choices have to be made many times a year.
At some conferences we’ve attended recently, tech companies expressed unhappiness with how N.J. colleges are preparing their students for entry into the workforce. What do you think?
The overwhelming majority of SHI’s Jersey-based employees hold four-year degrees from one of the state’s more than 25 colleges and universities, and many voluntarily participate in continuing-education programs at a local four-year school or community college. Our 22-year company history has been largely written by the work of employees who pursued their education within the Garden State. We cannot speak for tech companies that claim to have trouble recruiting in-state talent because our company’s success—and the demographics of our employee base—does not agree with this conclusion.
We could have located our new industrial-grade cloud computing center anywhere, but we chose New Jersey because of our own history and the quality of the local talent we have enjoyed since our founding in 1989.