Midwestern telco Bluebird Network is expanding an underground data center in Springfield, Missouri, it bought last year from the city for $8.4 million.
The company’s core business is data transport over its 6,000-mile fiber-optic network spanning Missouri, Illinois, and the surrounding states. The company owns the physical fiber and provides transport services on it.
Bluebird is an interesting company in that it plays an important role in delivery of internet content to rural areas across the Midwest. The company is owned by 25 rural telephone companies, and until it bought the Springfield facility, its owners were its only customers, served out of its other two data centers in Kansas City and St. Louis, its CEO Michael Morey said.
But Bluebird also peers with Netflix – responsible for about one-third of all traffic on the internet – at numerous points on its network and with other online video companies Morey could not name, so that their content can be picked up by its owner companies and delivered to their customers in remote areas.
“We do have other video providers that are peering with us, because we can get them close to the rural areas,” Morey said.
It used to be that satellites were the only way for content companies to deliver their content to rural users. Satellite services are expensive, however, and by peering with the likes of Bluebird, those firms can reduce their expenses.
“Many of these providers are actually dropping satellite delivery of some of these services,” Morey said.
The data center isn’t large, but its purchase represented a shift in strategy for the company, which is now going beyond just serving the 25 telcos that own it. Its current power capacity is about 1.2 megawatts, which is currently being expanded to about 2 MW.
Bluebird bought the data center primarily to make it easier to connect with the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and other customers. Without the data center, to exchange traffic with those so-called “access” networks, or networks that serve internet traffic to end users, the company would have to build fiber to whatever facilities they are in, Morey said.
The data center is a place where the networks can interconnect with Bluebird’s network and avoid the costly fiber build-out. Springfield was already on the company’s network.
“We were able to basically leverage our existing fiber network by buying the data center,” Morey said.
When Bluebird bought the facility inside a mine 85 feet below ground, it was at capacity. The city sold it because it didn’t have the capital to expand it, he explained.
There are about 80 customers in the data center today, including healthcare companies, cloud service providers, government agencies, and others. The city had been acting as a data center service provider to these tenants.
The main advantage of an underground data center is of course security. “Yes, it is a little more complicated [to build underground], and yes it is a little more expensive, but it is far more secure,” Morey said. “You can’t see it from a satellite; you can’t see it from a Google Maps truck.”
In addition to stealth, being underground makes the facility immune from the region’s frequent tornadoes and thunderstorms.
Correction: A previous version of this post said the mine where Bluebird's data center is located was defunct. The mine is actually operational, and Bluebird is one of the tenants there. The article has been corrected accordingly.