Sitting in Conference Room 2 at SuperNAP last Friday waiting for our tour of the best data center in the world to start, my buddy Steve and I stood with mouths agape overlooking the window that revealed the main hosting floor. If you haven’t seen it, the picture on the left doesn’t do it justice, with the custom cooling system humming along and the industry-leading server densities obvious to the naked eye. Steve turned to me and said, “The snozberries taste like snozberries!” Executive Vice President of Cloud, Jason Mendenhall, was our Willy Wonka, and our tour of the Chocolate Factory was pretty amazing.
The recurring thought I had throughout the tour was that I knew Switch had the best data centers, but I didn’t realize how large a lead they have. A unique combination of attributes contributes to this awesomeness that primarily comes from two sources: Las Vegas and Enron.
The first question people ask (and it was my question as well) is: Why Las Vegas? As Jason explained, the limiting factor in server density is cooling. The Law of Conservation of Energy dictates that the electricity that flows into a data center comes out in the form of heat. If you can manage that heat more efficiently, you can achieve better server densities, which are typically measured in watts per square foot.
What many people may not realize is that 70% of the days in Las Vegas have a temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. This means that the proprietary cooling system Switch developed, which utilizes 4 kinds of cooling without having a single drop of water flow inside the data center building, can take advantage of dry, cool desert air most days of the year. Steve and I stood inside one of these cooling units as part of the tour as it sucked in that very air, and I have to admit that the high air flow felt a little like when Grandpa and Charlie steal swigs of fizzy lifting drink (only without the threat of death by exhaust fan). This is how Switch is able to achieve 10x the server density of its competition.
The other reason Las Vegas is so attractive has to do with its lack of natural disaster history. As Switch explains graphically on its website, Las Vegas is literally the safest metropolitan city in North America. In the recorded history of natural disasters, there’s never been one there. Amazing.
But even if you have a hyper-efficient data center, you still have to get data to it. Enter Enron. Before bankrupting little old ladies during the height of their evil, Enron spent billions routing direct connect network lines to their hosting facility in Las Vegas. And that’s not local routing we’re talking about, but actual endpoints into the building. Sixteen major providers signed up before Enron evaporated and Switch bought the building. Switch has since grown this ecosystem to include a fiber nexus of thirty-two carriers, giving the company unmatched connectivity which it prices out at close to cost to give some karma back to the world, given the dubiousness of the previous endpoint ownership.
While Jason didn’t hand out Everlasting Gobstoppers at the end, Steve and I came away from our tour incredibly impressed. Switch’s devotion to the local start-up community, as evidenced by its new InNEVation Center, is worthy of a separate article altogether, and its natural disaster-free track record, high server densities via innovative cooling techniques, and multitude of connectivity options left us thankful we have our gear in SuperNAP.