ASHBURN, Va. – The world of IT services is being slowly transformed by huge global cloud platforms operated by Amazon, Google and Microsoft. How can colocation and hosting providers compete?
The way forward for service providers, according to Douglas Adams, is to build bigger.
“The colocation business is becoming an at-scale business,” said Adams, the president of RagingWire Data Centers.
Backed by the deep pockets of global telecom titan NTT, RagingWire is preparing to build huge data center campuses in the industry’s largest markets. It has optimized its business model and data center design around wholesale customers seeking large footprints, and is ready to invest heavily in data center construction.
“In the next five years, we will have a data center presence in the top six U.S. markets,” said Adams.
Super-Sizing the Data Center Campus
RagingWire’s strategy reinforces a major trend we’ve been tracking here at Data Center Frontier – the super-sizing of the data center campus. The industry’s largest players are building multi-building campuses that concentrate massive amounts of computing power in regional hubs.
Adams sees strong growth for major cloud platforms, as well as wholesale data center specialists that are building at scale, like Digital Realty and DuPont Fabros. That’s the direction RagingWire is pointing its business as well.Doug Adams: In the next 5 years, we will have a data center presence in the top 6 U.S. marketsClick To Tweet
RagingWire’s game plan is taking physical shape in Northern Virginia, where its newest data center showcases its design transition. The new building, known as VA2, features a number of changes from the company’s approach to VA1, its first data center in Ashburn. There are more changes to come in RagingWire’s next-generation design, which will be deployed in future greenfield builds.
The space inside VA1 is split between traditional colocation customers, who house gear in cabinets and cages, and a handful of tenants with larger chunks of space, including one that occupies an entire data hall.
Leasing by the Megawatt
Adams says there will be more of those larger deals, as the ascendance of cloud computing alters the data center market, creating more demand for these large footprints. That’s why RagingWire is shifting its focus to a wholesale model, in which customers lease entire data halls.
“We want to be able to sell in 1 megawatt increments,” said Adams.
VA2 will be a 14 megawatt data center featuring seven data halls, which RagingWire calls vaults. Each vault is configured for two megawatts of IT capacity, and can be divided into two 1-megawatt halls. The design can accommodate multi-megawatt requirements for a “super wholesale” customer, or allow tenants to grow in phases. Raised floors have already been installed in all seven vaults.
Like its predecessor, VA2 features RagingWire’s custom power infrastructure, known as 2N+2, which offers unusual levels of redundancy, allowing the company to perform maintenance without impacting customer operations. The data center is scheduled to come online next month, with an open house scheduled for April 28.
VA2 is a two-story structure, with data vaults on both floors. Servers are cooled using air-side economization, with cooling units on the back of the building serving first-floor data vaults, while a rooftop unit provides air for vaults on the upper floor. Air enters a cooling plenum on one side of the building, and then flows under a raised floor and into the equipment area, with exhaust heat exiting the space through louvers on the other side of the hall.
RagingWire extended the second floor of VA2, adding concrete and steel support infrastructure to make room for a suite of offices and operations centers. These rooms feature a flexible design that can be subdivided and customized for wholesale customers, based on how much staff they require.
Data Centers for Humans
The addition reflects RagingWire’s emphasis on engineering its data centers for people as well as servers. Each facility is designed with observation areas that allow prospects to tour the building without disrupting operations, eliminating the need to access the customer vaults.
The VA1 facility features a dramatic conference room known as the Eagle’s Nest, featuring a glass wall that runs the length of the room, offering an overhead view of a data vault filled with racks and servers.
Visitors to VA2 will walk through an illuminated floor in the “mantrap” security corridor, which opens into a lobby with a Terrazzo floor and striking cedar wall paneling.
RagingWire has gone a step further with its new CA3 data center in its headquarters campus in Sacramento, Calif. At CA3, a glass walkway extends over the data vault and connects with a circular observation room, which offers a 360-degree view of the racks.
RagingWire got its start 15 years ago at the Sacramento campus, which now houses three data centers with a combined 54 megawatts of critical IT load and 108 MW of generator capacity. The two Ashburn facilities add another 28 megawatts of IT capacity.
Both of RagingWire’s data centers in Ashburn were existing structures that it customized. As it builds bigger, the company is shifting to purpose-built ground-up data centers. “Our strong preference is to build greenfield,” said Adams.
RagingWire owns 80 acres of land in the heart of Ashburn’s “Data Center Alley” where it can build up to 2 million square feet of space. Last year the company broke ground on a 42-acre campus in Garland, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas, where it plans to build 1 million square feet of data centers.
A Design Template for Scale
The Dallas project will introduce a new data center design that will serve as the template for RagingWire’s future greenfield builds.
“We’ve developed a 16 megawatt blueprint that we can build in any market,” said Adams, who said the first Dallas building will feature a wide open “supervault” that can support up to 5 megawatts for a single customer, as well as standard 1 megawatt spaces.
A new wrinkle is that RagingWire will use heat wheels (Kyoto Cooling) to provide indirect evaporative cooling for the data vaults. “It’s been used forever and it’s a proven product,” said Adams. “You can roof mount it.”
The roof-mounted cooling units will allow RagingWire to offer dedicated cooling for each data vault, supported by the building-level 2N+2 power infrastructure.
“We believe dedicated mechanical and shared electrical is a combination you just can’t beat,” said Adams. “Our design can operate with water or without water. That’s important, because I don’t think there’s a guarantee of water being available in some US markets.”
Adams made it clear that RagingWire will be building soon in multiple cities. “My belief is that the vast majority of data center space will be sold in the major global markets,” he said.
His plan for a presence in the top six U.S. markets would mean the company will be seeking expansion opportunities in places like Silicon Valley, New York/New Jersey, Chicago and Los Angeles.
NTT Paves the Path for Growth
Building an operation on this massive scale wouldn’t be possible without the partnership with NTT. In 2013 the Japanese telco paid $350 million to acquire an 80 percent equity interest in RagingWire. The remaining 20 percent is held by RagingWire’s management team.
Significantly, RagingWire continues to operate under its own brand as an independent company.
“NTT has been insanely supportive of us,” said Adams. “They don’t have a U.S. footprint, and are investing heavily in us to build that footprint. It’s worth noting that this is a global telecom company that’s investing in the data center industry, while others are divesting.”
Prior to the NTT investment, RagingWire realized that it needed to boost the scale of its data center footprint, and was contemplating either an IPO or debt financing. With NTT, it gained a partner with financial resources and global reach. It has been transformative for RagingWire’s business.
“We are talking to a level of customer that we’ve never connected with before,” said Adams. “We’re now part of a $105 billion global platform. If people want to have a global MSA (master service agreement) with a large company, RagingWire is one of the only companies that can give you that. I think a stable global company is hard to beat.”