Building Bigger, Denser and Cooler

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SECAUCUS, N.J. – The distance from the parking lot to the equipment area of Equinix’ Secaucus data center is only a couple of hundred feet. But the trip is, in many ways, a journey to the center of the business Internet, featuring tight security and industrial-strength infrastructure. Visitors must pass through five biometric security stations to enter the main data center floor, a vast area of walkways bathed in purple light, flanked on either side by customer cages that are dark save for the blinking server lights.

Those servers power applications for the world’s largest financial institutions and Internet content providers. To ensure they never go offline, the facility is supported by 18 Liebert UPS units, more than 6,000 batteries, six 2-megawatt Caterpillar diesel generators, and dual power feeds from the local electric utility, PSE&G. These are the new table stakes in the enterprise data center world, and the growth of high-density computing is raising the infrastructure ante even further.

The leading players in the industry are betting big on premium engineering in next-generation facilities. It hasn’t been cheap. Equinix is in the midst of an expansion of its network in which it will spend half a billion dollars on advanced data centers. It’s not alone. Digital Realty Trust, Savvis Communications, 365 Main, i/o Data Centers, Terremark and Sabey Corp. are all building or retrofitting multiple new data centers.

Equinix, for one, says the investment in infrastructure is paying off, attracting the premier enterprise customers most coveted by data center operators. Many of those customers are filling their cages with blade servers, a trend which presents an ongoing challenge to Equinix and its competitors, who must manage the “hot spots” in their facilities.

“Power and cooling have totally changed the industry in 18 months,” said Margie Backaus, the chief business officer of Equinix. “We’ve been a beneficiary of that.”


That trend has been the driving force in the company’s growth, but also in its need to build even bigger to accommodate denser and cooler environments. Just down the street from its existing Secaucus facility, Equinix is building a 340,000 square foot data center that can hold 1,700 customer cabinets. The technical space at the new center, known as NY4, is big enough to fit a football field AND a hockey rink. More than 57 miles of cabling is being installed at NY4, and the backup generators will draw fuel from a 65,000 gallon reservoir of diesel fuel, which will require seven tanker trucks to fill.

Most importantly, Equinix has arranged for 31 megawatts of power for NY4, making it PSE&G’s second-largest customer, trailing only Newark International Airport.

Equinix is not just building out, but building up. The new data center will have 40-foot ceilings, reflecting the company’s approach to data center design. There are no raised floors in Equinix data centers. The equipment rests on a slab, with all the cooling infrastructure overhead, and cabling managed by a multi-layer aerial tray system that runs throughout the company’s data centers. The cabling tray system is patented, as is Equinix’ biometric security system.

NY4 is one of a series of next-generation data centers Equinix is building in its major markets. The company is bringing similar centers online in Chicago and Ashburn, Va., and has bought real estate in Ashburn to accommodate additional centers. Once complete, the expansion will give Equinix an additional 600,000 square feet of premium data center space, enough for an additional 6,000 customer cabinets.

With these projects still in progress, Equinix announced a new round of data center expansions last week, qhich will add a fourth data center in the Los Angeles area with a first phase providing space for up to 1,700 cabinets, and an expansion of its existing data center in Santa Clara, Calif. to accommodate another 1,100 new cabinets.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.