From Silicon Valley to Data Center Alley

James Leach

Since the birth of the integrated circuit in the 1950s, Silicon Valley has become the destination for high tech entrepreneurship. Located in Northern California, the term "Silicon Valley" was coined in the 1970s and gained popularity in the 1980’s with the emergence of the personal computer. In Silicon Valley, capacity and capability came together to create some of the greatest technical innovations in history.

This same dynamic of capacity meeting capability that happened decades ago in Silicon Valley is underway in Loudoun County Virginia. We’re calling it Data Center Alley, the largest concentration of the best data centers in the world.

Capacity refers to the raw materials needed to create a thriving data center community: ample telecommunications; reliable, cost-effective utility power; and available land.

Hundreds of telecommunications providers include Data Center Alley as a link in their national and global networks. These networks interconnect using vast amounts of fiber installed in redundant loops throughout the area. The result is that 70% of the world’s internet traffic passes through Data Center Alley.

For utility power, we are fortunate to work with Dominion Virginia Power. Dominion recognized early on the potential for data centers in Northern Virginia and implemented a capacity model that ensured that sufficient power would be available to meet the needs of Data Center Alley at affordable prices. They worked closely with data center companies to configure their power delivery system so that power was highly reliable. Finally, Dominion has been a good steward of our energy infrastructure by maintaining an intelligent mix of available and environmentally sound energy sources.

The last raw material is land. Data centers need space in order to realize economies of scale. For example, our data center in Ashburn, Virginia is 150,000 square feet and we purchased 78 acres of land in Ashburn to build a1.5 million square foot data center campus. The land also needs to be located near the telecommunications and utility supplies and with easy access.

Capability refers to the people, government policies, and culture that promote building great data centers and growing the data center industry.

The data center industry is a highly specialized field that requires deep expertise in engineering, design, construction, and operations. Much of this expertise comes from on-the-job experience. Data Center Alley has more than 40 data centers which support an outstanding talent pool of data center experts.

Government policies have been instrumental in the development of Data Center Alley. Virginia is one of the most pro-business states in the U.S., and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and Department of Economic Development are personally involved in helping data center companies be successful. For example, RagingWire customers can qualify for a Virginia sales tax exemption which could save them millions of dollars on purchases of computer equipment and other related data center infrastructure components.

Lastly, the culture in Data Center Alley is all about building. We put theory into practice and scale it. The result is that there is currently eight million sq. ft. of data center space already built or in development in Data Center Alley.

Data Center Alley is starting to get some recognition. If you want to learn more, watch a segment on Data Center Alley from the Sunday morning news program “Government Matters.”

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