Chicago Gets Hotter in the Fall: Ascent Adds Power to CH2
Ascent Data Centers’ CH2 facility in Northlake, Illinois. [Courtesy Ascent]

Chicago Gets Hotter in the Fall: Ascent Adds Power to CH2

Upgrading a “dynamic” data center suite for an existing tenant demonstrates the challenges any data center provider faces, even when it’s guessed correctly about its tenants’ growth patterns.

In the latest signal that Chicago may as well be the data center capital of middle America, Ascent LLC declared Tuesday it has completed a project to deliver an additional 2.5 MW of critical power capacity for a single tenant in its CH2 facility.

CH2 is located at 505 North Railroad Avenue in the western suburb of Northlake, just south of O’Hare Airport, a half-block east of Interstate 294, and within a stone’s throw of three local cemeteries.  The upgrade adds another 2.5 MW of power, and 16,000 square feet, to what was already a 250,000 square-foot facility.

“This second development of ours, CH2, we really cater to enterprise-class customers,” explained Ascent CEO Phil Horstmann, in an interview with Data Center Knowledge.  “Most of our data center capacity that we’ve developed, delivered, and leased to tenants has been customized and built-to-suit.  This suite was a third-phase expansion for a very large enterprise user, and as their business continues to grow and they need more capacity to serve their customers, it just fell in-line for that buildout.”

Generator equipment inside Ascent Data Centers' CH2 facility in Chicago. [Courtesy Ascent]

Electrical switchgear inside Ascent's CH2 facility in Chicago. [Courtesy Ascent]

Ascent boasts 40-gigabit accessibility for CH2 from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), the Intercontinental Exchange, and the NYSE’s Chicago branch downtown, as well as from the CME branch in Aurora.  That’s important for the CME, which sold its own Aurora data center to CyrusOne last March, and may still be looking for good reasons not to pull out of the state of Illinois.

As Horstmann told us, Ascent envisioned CH2 to be a showcase for what he calls “dynamic data center suites,” whose tenants’ needs for expansion are anticipated in advance.  It’s capacity planning taken to one logical extreme: effectively pre-equipping growing customers with space they will eventually use, hopefully in a contiguous location.

So this expansion request was not a surprise but part of the plan.  The bulk utility power for CH2 was already on-site, said Horstmann, along with a high-voltage 138 kV substation with 54 MW capacity.  On the other hand, the extra power draw requirement did call for some work, consuming some 150 days after ground-breaking commenced.

“A lot of times it takes a little time to get utility for a user to just turn on that kind of capacity,” the CEO explained.  “But since that was already there, and we had an existing building and a good number of different reference designs, we were really just ‘rinse-and-repeat’ on a customized program that we had already deployed two of, for this customer.”

Horstmann credits his engineers with the ability to break down critical infrastructure requirements into logical building blocks of electrical and mechanical capacity.  By setting aside these building blocks in advance, by way of capacity planning, he said, it’s possible to deploy additional capacity without becoming overcommitted.

Generators outside Ascent Data Centers' CH2 facility. [Courtesy Ascent]

Generators outside Ascent's CH2 facility. [Courtesy Ascent]

“I think that’s a real advantage we have with the cloud service providers,” he said.  “At the breakneck pace at which that business is growing, they never really know if they need 2 MW today, and 12 or 20 MW by the end of the year.  That’s where a lot of our current discussions are centering, with those types of users — the ability to turn on large blocks of capacity, such as 3 to 6 MW, in an even shorter timeframe like 60, 90, or 110 days.”

For Ascent, Horstmann explained, this creates a natural but necessary tension pitting the need to pre-allocate space and hold it off the market, against the need to meet customer demand for keeping pace with future growth.

“Our tenants are smart, sophisticated companies,” he said, “so they always have a pretty good sense.  But capacity planning is a challenge.  You can’t just have endless expansion space and hold it off the market forever, but you have to have a good balance of develop-able space, and a good tenant mix.  That’s what leads to a healthy, growing development.”

[CORRECTION:  An earlier draft of this article referred to Ascent Data Centers, which is separate from Ascent LLC.]

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