Ubiquity Eyes Turning Sears Auto Centers into Data Centers


This illustration depicts how an existing Sears Auto Center might be converted into a data center.

One of America’s retail pioneers may build a brand for the new economy, housing servers where it once changed your oil.

Ubiquity Critical Environments, the data center unit of Sears Holdings, is considering a concept to convert some of its Sears Auto Center stores into data centers. It is working with Schneider Electric, a leading provider of data center equipment and services, on a proposal to build and operate mission-critical facilities in a number of markets around the country.

The proposal marks an evolution of Ubiquity’s mission to repurpose Sears’ real estate holdings to capitalize on demand for data centers. Ubiquity was created by Sears to convert the retail icons of the 20th century into Internet infrastructure to power the 21st century digital economy. Farney initially explored converting old Sears and Kmart retail stores and warehouses into huge data centers. But it turned out that many of the most promising facilities were located near existing data center hubs, where Ubiquity would compete with existing providers.

Smaller Footprints, Secondary Markets

Instead, Ubiquity has shifted its focus to smaller footprints in secondary markets. Farney says that Sears Auto Centers would be ideal for this strategy, especially the stand-alone centers.

“We have a unique asset, which is a lot of real estate that’s permitted and zoned so we can move quickly (if we take this beyond the concept stage),” said Farney.

The data center initiative could play a role in Sears strategy for its fleet of Sears Auto Centers. On Oct. 29, Sears said it would evaluate “strategic alternatives” for the auto centers, saying they offer “a unique national footprint that can be leveraged to create significant value.” Much of the speculation has focused on a sale or spinoff of the auto center business.

“This concept is unrelated to our announcement from Oct. 29,” said Howard Riefs, spokesperson for Sears Holdings. “We continue to evaluate separating the Sears Auto Center business to allow it to pursue its own strategic opportunities, optimize its capital structure, attract talent, and allocate capital in a more focused manner while bringing Sears Holdings’ Business Unit structure to life outside of the Sears Holdings portfolio.”

Schneider-efficientdcsUbiquity’s concept would present a huge opportunity for Schneider Electric, which in recent years has been expanding its portfolio of services to address virtually every aspect of the data center business. Schneider would design, build, maintain and operate the data centers, which would be co-branded and jointly marketed by Ubiquity and Schneider. Each Ubiquity data center’s branding would feature the motto “Efficient Data Centers: Powered and Operated by Schneider Electric.”

“We’re bringing together many pieces to create a broader solution,” said Mike Hagan, vice president of Schneider’s Data Center Service Provider division. “We provided a fast way for Ubiquity to find all the resources they needed in a single partner. We can enter any space Ubiquity is targeting and add data center capacity in a modular fashion. This is not anything that’s new to us. We’re capable of engineering to any unique requirements.”

Those capabilities were recently on display in a project in Seattle in which Schneider converted office space at Fisher Plaza into an 11,000 square foot data center for Tierpoint, including a seismic isolation system.

Why Auto Centers?

Farney believes the Ubiquity concept for the Sears Auto Centers would provide a winning template for data centers. While some auto centers are attached to mall-based retail stores, more than 50 are stand-alone facilities, often located on the perimeter of shopping malls. These sites are typically concrete buildings of between 25,000 and 50,000 square feet, with ceiling heights of at least 16 feet.

Ubiquity has proposed converting a number of these sites into data centers offering between 1.2 megawatts and 2.4 megawatts of IT capacity on a 10,000 square foot raised floor environment. The facilities would be engineered for at least 150 watts per square foot, supporting cabinets using 3kW to 10kW of power. Ubiquity and Schneider expect to build the data centers to meet Tier III standards and operate with high levels of energy efficiency, targeting a Power Usage Effectiveness of 1.3.

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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.

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  1. This is a really important step in data center evolution. Hats off to Schneider and Ubiquity for realizing that a smaller distributed footprint is ultimately supporting where the industry is moving - distributed, small footprint, network of systems. Think SDN, think Network is the Computer, think 25+ KW cabinets as the norm, with hundreds distributed around the world and a lot of data flowing, reading, writing, and living in many places so that the resiliency of data access isn't the issue, it's the access of the user that drives what's available. Investors we talk to want to figure out the space and this model now gives them a publicly available one to sift through. While somewhat proprietary, it's still exciting times ahead! Congrats to Sean and Mike

  2. Congrats Sean/Dan... I know this is been a thought for some time and I am happy to see you make the vision a reality. Sounds exciting!!

  3. Jay Gomez

    The old Astrodome in Houston, TX would make an awesome Super-Sized data center. Might be worth looking into. This would be the optimum/ultimate Green "reduce, re-use , recycle" opportunity while generating new tax revenues for The City of Houston et al.

  4. Steve

    What a terrible idea. The "asset" that they have (zoned land) is probably only 1/10th the actual cost of the project. Not to mention that trying to repurpose existing infrastructure into a data centre (tier III at that) is an uphill battle.