Switch Communications data center expanding to 2.2 million square feet

So you think Las Vegas isn’t a big high-tech town?

Tell that to customers of Switch Communications.

Switch, a Las Vegas company, has owned and operated high-security computer data centers across Southern Nevada since 2002, providing off-site servers for the world’s best-known technology businesses, as well as U.S. government agencies.

Now, Switch is upping the ante on its local operation, more than quintupling the size of its main data center, SuperNAP-7, at 7135 S. Decatur Blvd. Once complete, it’ll have 2.2 million square feet, making it the "largest commercially available and independent technology ecosystem in the world," according to Switch’s website.

SuperNAP-7 will have 500,000 square feet of office space and more than 31,000 customer computer servers. Data from the center already can reach San Francisco in 6 to 8 milliseconds and Ohio or Florida in 40 milliseconds, the company said. Its patented cooling system lets it maximize the number of servers it can pack into the facility. Its power capacity at build-out will be about 450 megawatts, roughly the output of a midsized power plant.

The company hasn’t said when it expects to complete construction, but it held a Thursday groundbreaking closed to reporters and photographers because expected guests, who included Gov. Brian Sandoval, required top security, a spokeswoman said. Ultrahigh security reigns at Switch: The SuperNAP-7 has military-trained security armed with automatic weapons on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to protect its sensitive information and server space.

"It’s like going to Fort Knox," said Somer Hollingsworth, president and CEO of the Nevada Development Authority.

Switch declined repeated requests for an interview but Hollingsworth said the company is generating tech-sector buzz for Las Vegas.

"What it’s done is put Las Vegas on the map in the world of technology, big time," he said. "It is one of a kind, absolutely cutting-edge. Switch has an impeccable reputation, and they were really kind of a start for us getting credibility for the beginnings of a tech center."

That growing reputation comes just as off-site data centers and servers are on the rise. The website Politico recently reported that the Obama administration wants to spend $20 billion in coming years to move federal technology systems off-site, and into Internet-based services that can replace on-site servers.

Switch proves Las Vegas is perfectly positioned to meet that need, Hollingsworth said. Other collocation operators have reached out to the Nevada Development Authority about putting data centers in Southern Nevada, because the region is one of the nation’s least-prone to natural disasters.

"We may see some huge moves in this area because of the situation back East and in the South and Southeast, with their floods, hurricanes and tornadoes," Hollingsworth said. "Companies’ backup is their lifeblood. If they lose their backup, they’re dead in the water."

Switch has also benefited from its purchase of a former local Enron Corp. broadband services center, which had a roughly $1 billion fiber-optic backbone.

Company officials told trade publication Data Center Knowledge in 2008 that they might consider opening collocation centers in other markets, but that Las Vegas gave them virtually irreplaceable advantages in climate — dry air is less expensive to cool — and access to fiber-optics.

Switch’s Decatur SuperNAP-7 opened in September 2008 with 7,000 customer servers in 407,000 square feet. At the time, Data Center Knowledge called the SuperNAP "one of the world’s most unique data centers," and said the $300 million center’s "marquee customers" included major Internet companies.

A May 2008 article in U.K. newspaper the Register quoted Switch’s CEO, Rob Roy, as saying he expected some of the world’s most prominent companies, including just about every technology giant and big media conglomerate, to take space in the SuperNAP.

In a July article in The Wall Street Journal, Switch didn’t name names, but it confirmed that its clients include government agencies, casinos and other entities that can’t afford computer downtime.

The newspaper also noted that SuperNAP 7 has about 50 diesel generators to handle the power load if the electric grid fails. The facility has 7,000 gallons stored on site for each generator; if the fuel runs out, SuperNAP-7’s security force has federal permission to seize supplies from almost anywhere. The federal government ranks its operational importance in a disaster above that of hospitals.

Technology platform partners in Switch include Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., Dell Inc. and Cisco Systems. Those aren’t bad folks to know on a first-name basis, Hollingsworth said.

"It’s part of putting the pieces together and opening those doors," he said.

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