Big Data Entails Big Enticements
By Rachel Duran
For ViaWest, a provider of colocation cloud services and managed services, its new facilities are excellent examples of how it traditionally selects locations. The two sites, located in Denver and Minneapolis, allow the company to provide high touch customer service to clients in those marketplaces.
ViaWest’s Denver expansion features 140,000 square feet of new inventory. Minneapolis is a new market for the company. The new facility is 160,000 square feet, which will yield 75,000 square feet of inventory. In March, the company expects to launch its initial 40,000 square feet of inventory.
ViaWest has 25 existing data centers in seven states. As the company grows it will begin adding wholesale colocation services within its colocation product line. The availability of business tools such as economic development incentives will play an increasing role in the company’s site selection process.
The company’s next selections will be similar to how big enterprise data centers, such as those for Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, pick facilities. “Because we are moving to include that wholesale aspect into our service offerings we are now moving our site selection criteria to encompass those criteria that have always been material to people that didn’t have that high tie to a local touch, if you will,” says Dave Leonard, chief data center officer, ViaWest. He directs the design and construction of new data centers and data center expansions, as well as defines the standards and practices for the operation of the company’s data centers. “Now we are also factoring in what economic incentives are available from the state or local governments.”
Leonard says ViaWest is also reviewing the cost of power in an area, as well as how the company can build efficient systems to operate in a lower cost manner, such as tapping into free cooling. “All of that makes sense when you think of that marketplace; the data center will not only compete against local data centers but also against national data centers,” he says.
The Cluster Advantage
In Oklahoma, Google has sited a 130,000-square-foot data center to the MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor. The center powers Google’s services such as search, email, videos, productivity and mobile services. Despite its size, the data center takes up just 30 acres of the company’s 800-acre campus. The company has invested more than $700 million in this data center.
Oklahoma is an attractive location for the data center industry. In 2009, Hewlett Packard doubled the size of its Tulsa data center. As of 2012, the operation was one of five HP data centers in the country. Companies such as Google and HP benefit from Oklahoma’s low costs of energy, where the average industrial price is 5.46 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to a national average of 6.82 cents, according to the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
The state also offers companies the ability to tap into a diverse base of energy sources to power these centers. Oklahoma is the nation’s fourth-largest producer of natural gas. The Department of Energy predicts the state could be the second-largest generator of wind energy by 2030. What’s more, the state has an abundance of manmade lakes to support the cooling efforts required by data centers.
HP’s Enterprise Services operation in Tulsa consists of two locations. HP’s newest facility in Tulsa features chilled water cooling systems, as opposed to electricity, “which would be an enormous cost and environmentally unfriendly,” says Wes Mitchell, director of data services, Tulsa Data Center. “We run water across the data center floor, above the roof and drop down it down through cooling towers across micro ceramic tiles that mist the water and cools and drops the temperature tremendously. We then pump the water back through the air conditioner coils to actually cool the data center floor. It is a closed loop system.”
Mitchell says one of the things that is very important “to us as a company, and we were able to take the opportunity to utilize it here, is green power because our clients also have [an] environmental conscious, especially in some countries where they get credits for how green their activities are.”
Mitchell says the company finds Tulsa to be very business centric and supportive of the company’s and the region’s businesses, offering assistance and support structures to expand operations. One of the major advantages for the company was years back one of the area’s oil companies decided to run telecommunications fiber through its abandoned pipelines, which created one of the country’s strongest telecommunications systems.
Security is a big concern to HP, Mitchell notes, especially as the company migrates clients to cloud infrastructure. “We have robust security offerings to facilitate the protection of our customers’ data,” Mitchell says. “With the emergence of virtual environments, like cloud, we are poised as an organization to provide some of those security services and it is one of the growth areas for the future.”
The company doesn’t have to look far to find leaders with expertise in cybersecurity. “The University of Tulsa has one of the top tier cybersecurity programs in the country,” Mitchell says. Partnerships with the local higher education system are increasingly important to HP. In the coming year, the company will host a job fair with Tulsa Community College and area universities.
In addition to cloud computing and security services, Mitchell says HP Enterprise Services will also focus on big data analytics offerings as the keys to its future. Here again, the company won’t have to look far for supporting players. “We have specific areas where we have international expertise, one of which is analytics,” says Rick Wilson, chair for the department of management science in the Spears School of Business, Oklahoma State University, which is located in Stillwater “The buzzwords of today talk about data or business analytics or the jobs of the future as being the data scientist. Those classes and certificate programs and areas of emphasis come out of our department.”
Wilson says the business school’s degree programs are designated as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, which is unusual for business school type programs. “We are one of the most technical MIS programs in the country,” Wilson says. Students receive business and technical training, which offers the best of both worlds to employers.
The university was also the first public institution in the region to be designated as a center of academic excellence and information assurance by the NSA. “We have plans at the graduate level to take the master’s program and further modify it to take advantage of the unique interest and areas of expertise in terms of ethical hacking, and defense vs. offense,” Wilson says.
Wilson shares a story relayed by a fellow faculty member to understand the level of talent being produced by the university. A student team found a serious vulnerability in a computer system on campus. “It amazes me that student teams on campus are finding vulnerabilities,” Wilson adds. As expected, he couldn’t share what the students found.
Beyond a well-versed talent base in business and technical concepts, data center companies locating in Oklahoma will find access to: training incentives; employee recruiting incentives; a quality jobs program; property tax exemptions, sales tax exemptions and certified sites.
A variety of benefits are increasingly attractive to industry members such as ViaWest. Leonard says the company will still be driven by a desire in its next expansion to go into a city that looks similar to the cities the company currently operates in. “Going forward our first choice will be similar metro areas like we are comfortable with,” he says. “The other factors of the energy efficiency and power pricing come in as a tie breaker. If it adds an advantage in power, efficiency, or tax incentives, it [data center] can compete more effectively against operations around the country.”
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Illustration by watcharakun at Free Digital Photos.net