The World's Smartest Parking Garage

The World's Smartest Parking Garage

The new Equinix SE3 data center is atop a parking garage in the heart of Seattle, with the Westin Building in the background.

Photo courtesy of Equinix

Security

Security

At SE3, there are at least five points of challenge between the outside and the cages in which individual customers will have cabinets full of servers. These include human security guards, key cards, passcodes, bioreaders on all customer doors, mantraps, and probably several other measures that Equinix doesn't disclose on media tours. There are cameras, too. Lots of them. "We don't have a blind spot in our datacenters," Equinix site manager Abraham Hewitt tells me.

Photo by Benjamin Romano, Xconomy

Donkey Kong Junior

Donkey Kong Junior

Past a couple layers of security, but before reaching the data center itself, Equinix has a lounge area where technicians can unwind after a day provisioning servers. From there, a glass-enclosed walkway leads to more secure doors and a large freight elevator that takes you up to the data center itself.

Photo by Benjamin Romano, Xconomy

Blue Lights

Blue Lights

The parking garage was originally six stories tall. The top four floors were torn off completely, and two levels of basement were added for seismic reinforcement. The finished structure is 10 extra-height stories tall, equivalent to a 13-story building. The data center's signature blue lighting inside enhances that Tron-like feeling of being inside an enormous computer. "Look. This... is all a mistake. I'm just a compound interest program. I work at a savings and loan!"

Photo courtesy of Equinix

Highways of Cable

Highways of Cable

As a multi-tenant datacenter, SE3 is different in many ways from the much larger facilities built by Google, Microsoft, and Amazon in Eastern Oregon and Washington. SE3 is built on slab, rather than on a raised floor with room for cabling underneath the servers. In SE3 the cabling is carried on trays above the server cabinets, making for faster, easier setup of connections. "The whole idea is to have 100 people who want to be near each other and have cross-connects with each other," Adams says. "The classic example that I give is Facebook is a major account of ours. Zynga wants to be right next to Facebook because the success of Facebook drives the success of Zynga."

Photo courtesy of Equinix

Meet Me

Meet Me

Site manager Hewitt holds open the door to one of SE3's "meet-me" rooms. "From this point, we can get to all of the space of course in this building, but also to the Westin Building," he explains.

Adams elaborates on this physical marketplace for online business: "Telcos come here because they actually want to sell services to the enterprises that are here. The cloud vendors are coming here because they actually want to reach the telcos and deploy their services, but also sell to the enterprises. That's part of that ecosystem of buyers and sellers, driving their businesses in the data center. By being in the same building, you get security, [low] latency and performance."

Photo by Benjamin Romano, Xconomy

Mark Adams

Mark Adams

Some customers choose a direct connection with, say, Amazon Web Services, an Equinix partner, to handle spikes in traffic, for example.

"When you have a direct connect, you know what port you're actually going in to reach AWS. There's some real advantages," Adams says. "And it gives you more control. What's interesting in the cloud arena is people are starting to move toward hybrid structures, where they'll have both a private cloud and leverage the public cloud for bursting."

Photo by Benjamin Romano, Xconomy

Saving Energy

Saving Energy

Data centers have a justifiable reputation as power-hungry. The low electricity rates in the Pacific Northwest have attracted them here. But the industry is trying to reduce data center energy demand, and Equinix is going for a LEED Gold certification on SE3 with features including motion sensor controls for lighting. The real savings come through the cooling system. More on that later.

Photo by Benjamin Romano, Xconomy

Backup Power

Backup Power

The SE3 data center is set up to provide its own power for 30 hours at full capacity, and indefinitely with refueling. Power rooms are equipped with uninterruptable power supplies and banks of lead-acid batteries to ride through power outages and give the four 2.5-megawatt diesel generators on the roof time to ramp up and get in phase.

Photos by Benjamin Romano, Xconomy

Rooftop Generators

Rooftop Generators

The four rooftop generators, which have great Space Needle views, are enclosed to protect them from the elements and limit noise.

Photos by Benjamin Romano, Xconomy

Air Conditioning

Air Conditioning

Seattle's typically cool weather allows Equinix to use filtered outside air for cooling the data center more than 80 percent of the time, says Scott Burlingame, manager of facilities operations. As the temperature climbs, an evaporative cooling system---"basically a fancy swamp cooler," Burlingame says---turns on. And when the temperature gets really hot, mechanical air conditioning units will kick on.

"The cap-ex is substantial," Adams says. "We're not going to use the air con that much, but you have to have it when you need it. But there's material op-ex savings by using the free air cooling."

Photo by Benjamin Romano, Xconomy

Equinix Exterior

Equinix Exterior

Adams says the initial two-floor phase of the SE3 data center was 20 percent full before it officially opened. As it fills, the company will begin building the second phase, and start searching for its next location.

"To actually design and build and get the planning approval for a building like this, it's substantial, so we're always looking two to three years ahead and saying what's the next site in Seattle," he says.

Photo courtesy of Equinix

Going inside a modern data center is a chance to remember that our data-intensive online lives and businesses still require lots of hardware, even though we may see and touch less of it. The server racks, conduits, nests of wire and cable, “meet me” rooms, and the heavy power, cooling, and security infrastructure supporting it all are the physical manifestation of the private and public clouds and virtual marketplaces where life and business take place today.

In downtown Seattle, international data center operator Equinix (NASDAQ: EQIX) is opening the first phase of its SE3 multi-tenant datacenter in a converted Clise Properties parking garage, adjacent to the Pacific Northwest’s premier telecommunications hub, the Westin Building, where Equinix has its SE2 datacenter. It is a strategic location on a local and global scale, given Seattle’s role as a cloud computing hub and a main terminal for the growing volume of Internet traffic between North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

The 51,000-square-foot, $60 million project creates space for about 1,000 server cabinets, with direct connection to major telecom providers and the Seattle Internet Exchange.

“We actually consider this one of our strengths at Equinix—the ability to work at a downtown location and figure out how to find space near that, and then be able to take advantage of what’s an old parking structure that was under-used, and put a data center on top of it,” says Mark Adams, chief development officer of the Redwood City, CA-based company.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com.