Cold Space with Power: [2N+1] Opens Boutique Data Center in Somerville

7/30/08Follow @wroush

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go somewhere where the utility is friendly and can bring you power. Municipal utilities are famous for not wanting to do that, which made places like Cambridge, Shrewsbury, and Braintree a last resort for us. Somerville is a much more friendly city to do business in, in terms of utilities, permitting, and even help from the mayor’s office.”

[2N+1] is able to pull enough power from the grid to supply up to 250 watts per square foot to individual colocation customers. NSTAR could supply even more, but as every data center operator is acutely aware, each watt of power flowing into a server rack produces a certain amount of waste heat, and 250 watts per square foot is the maximum amount the building’s new water-cooled air conditioning system can handle. (On the first, third, and fourth floors, where the building’s rentable space is located, cold air will be blasted into the facility underneath the raised floors—the space acts like a vast cooling duct—and then up into the individual server racks.)

Curious about the company’s exposure to the kind of electrical-room disaster that hobbled The Planet, I asked Bono whether all of the building’s power came through a central conduit, as it did at the Houston facility. “You are limited by what the fire department will allow; you have to have one place where they can send a person to shut down power to the building,” he answered gamely. “But we do have two feeds from NSTAR, from two conduit banks that are close to each other but separated by 30 inches of concrete. They come into a substation where, theoretically, an explosion could cause a problem, but it’s usually a transformer that blows, and those are outside, 30 feet apart, separated by a concrete wall.”

[2N+1] Aerial ViewThat sounds smart to me. And to guard against power losses of any origin, there’s the aforementioned diesel generator, as well as two floors full of refrigerator-sized, battery-powered UPSs, or uninterruptible power supplies, which store enough energy to keep customers’ equipment running for up to 15 minutes. (They’re really just needed to bridge the 10- to 60-second gap while the diesel generator spins up.) The company will provide two UPSs for every customer—a primary and a backup—plus a spare nearby that can be rolled in if one of the first two breaks. In fact, the name [2N+1] is a formula summarizing the company’s whole philosophy of redundancy: if you’ve got N hardware components running, keep another N spares on hand, plus one.

As data centers go, Bono explained, 22,000 square feet is on the small side, at least compared to facilities outside Route 128 or in places like Dallas, Houston, and Washington State (where Google and Microsoft are both building enormous data centers to power their cloud-computing services). But for a facility inside Route 128—and especially for one on Boston’s doorstep—[2N+1] is “very big,” according to Bono.

Still, it’s something of a boutique operation, designed for a specific kind of customer—those needing between 250 and 5,000 square feet of colocation space, with a sweet spot around 1,000 square feet. “Those are the customers that are historically the least amount of trouble to work with,” Bono explains. “Very large companies want you to offer all of these ancillary managed services that we don’t want to get into. And very small customers want you to essentially be their IT team, and we don’t want to do that, either.”

[2N+1]‘s perfect customer, says Locandro, would be “a mid-size technology company with its own IT staff who understand that they are going to be providing their own DNS and DHCP and storage and infrastructure, and they just need a foundation of cold space with power,” says Locandro. (If you don’t know what DNS and DHCP are, then, I would guess, you need not apply.)

“The majority of our customers,” says Locandro, “are walking in and saying, ‘Hi, I’m located at One International Place, and I can’t get any more air handlers into my data center, and I can’t put a diesel generator on the roof, and I can’t get any more power from the landlord, but I do have connectivity, so I want to run a fiber ring to your facility and move our whole infrastructure there.’ We become an extension of their real estate.” And between [2N+1]‘s fiberoptic connectivity, its load-bearing floors, and its dual NSTAR conduits, it’s valuable real estate indeed—though it may not look it from the outside.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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