The Truth About Data Centers
As popular as data centers are in this era of petabytes and exabytes, here's a hard truth: there are only a few places in the country where data center developers are eager to build. Yesterday at our Data Center Investment Expo (DICE), we learned who's on that map.
Not only do the top data center owners want to be as close as possible to an ISP node (like Equinix’s data exchange in Ashburn, to ensure maximum speed at minimum cost), they want as much land as possible. Digital Realty Trust SVP of acquisitions and investments Chris Kenney (right, next to Equinix SVP Howard Horowitz and moderator Dan Golding of Google) says Digital likes to own its data centers, so it has to ask the real estate question: how is the location? “The answer keeps us in the top-tier cities and prevents us from going into the more far-flung locations,” Chris says.
Location for mixed-use development means Metro, great retail and walkability. For data centers, it’s all about connectivity. “Connectivity has been one of the key drivers for the growth [of data centers] in Loudoun County,” Loudoun economic development chief Buddy Rizer says. And while it’s his job to promote the county, it’s also true: Data Center Alley in Ashburn is now the No. 1 data hub in the country. Loudoun “has embraced the data center industry,” Howard says.
What sets NoVa apart is its land: there’s plenty of it. Equinix just bought 44 acres to develop a new campus, for instance. And plenty of it is greenfield development. As Cushman & Wakefield EVP Alex Smith says, “it’s just much more cost-effective to start from the ground up.” That ground should be within 5 kilometers of an exchange, have enough dark fiber for minimum latency, and be hospitable to the workforce.
Of course, NoVa is far from the only place where data centers like to be. Singapore is a fast-growing market, one that IO founder Tony Wanger (right) has capitalized on with a data center, with Goldman Sachs as the anchor client. Instead of building the center and pitching Goldman, Tony brought Goldman's Grant Richard along in the process, helping to design and plan the center to meet the needs of one of the world’s most powerful institutions. They were able to get approval in the Asian city-state within a year, “a tall order,” Tony admits. They also partnered on a data center in London, in which IO used a built-from-scratch air system to provide cooling for the servers based on Goldman’s request. Their joint presentation had more of a feel of a chat between buddies than a panel for industry insiders.
The keynote for the event was a presentation by Amazon Web Services solutions architecture manager Camil Samaha, giving everyone a coveted look into the industry’s biggest, and most secretive, player. “We’ve experienced explosive growth,” Camil says, thanks to the breakneck pace at which AWS releases new features and applications; they released 516 last year alone, and will surpass that number this year. AWS has 10 times the capacity of other cloud computing providers, he says, and its fiber serves 1 million active customers in 190 countries, spread out over 11 global regions. They operate more than 30 data centers, each with about 25 to 30 megawatts of space. Each data center has 50,000 to 80,000 servers, Camil says, and nowhere in its vast network are latency speeds slower than two milliseconds.
After the day's panels were over, the real fun began, with blackjack tables, craps and an open bar. Sean Whinnie and Aaron Milton of Iconicx Critical Solutions joined Bisnow's Scott Pacheco at the blackjack table, hoping to win some fake money.
Prince Williams County business development manager Jim Gahres and Himes Associates founder Paul Himes put on their hundred-megawatt smiles roaming around the casino floor.
And, as everyone in the industry knows, nothing can happen in a data center without plenty of power. Here, we snapped Dominion Power's Phillip Sandino, William McCausland, David Burnam and Jerry Espish.