ASHBURN, Va. – As he looks at the towering cooling wall inside Aligned Energy’s newest data center, Andrew Schaap sees the future. The company’s facility here in Ashburn, which opened this week, is its biggest step yet toward its vision for building intelligent infrastructure in the largest data center markets.
For Schaap, the CEO of Aligned Energy, the huge wall is a showcase for the company’s Delta Cube technology, which can cool high-density workloads and be expanded to offer even more cooling in the same room. Aligned says its cooling system provides “future-proofing” for its customers, who are struggling to predict how much IT capacity they will need.
Artificial intelligence and other next-generation technologies are raising the stakes for data center customers in both the hyperscale and enterprise sectors. The Delta Cube is central to Aligned’s focus on solving the capacity planning challenge, enabling a flexible design that can increase power capacity as a customer adds servers, even within its existing footprint.
Aligned Ashburn brings the company’s technology into the industry’s most competitive market. Ashburn is home to Data Center Alley, the focal point for Northern Virginia’s huge cluster of cloud computing infrastructure. The Aligned project sits at a major intersection for both power and fiber, less than a mile from the Equinix campus in Ashburn where the world’s major networks meet.
As it enters the industry’s biggest arena, Aligned is building big and fast. It plans to deploy about 1 million square feet of data center space and 180 megawatts of power capacity at Quantum Park, the historic former UUNet campus that was a key connectivity hub dating to the early days of the Internet.
The first building spans 368,755 square feet and will support 60 megawatts of capacity. The 12-megawatt first phase, which includes two new data halls, was completed in less than six months.
“Aligned Ashburn is among the fastest building permit to commissioning construction projects in the history of Ashburn’s critical infrastructure, delivering critical capacity in record time to meet the growing need for high-density, highly efficient and scalable colocation solutions in Ashburn,” said Schaap.
Smart Infrastructure, Efficient Growth
The Ashburn opening on Monday capped a burst of expansion news for Aligned. Last week it announced that it will expand its data center site in Plano, Texas, where Aligned will add 8 megawatts of capacity at the 19-acre property north of Dallas. The company also operates data center campuses in Phoenix and Salt Lake City, with the Ashburn site providing Aligned’s first major presence on the East Coast.
Aligned’s growth has been supported by the financial strength of Macquarie Infrastructure Partners, the huge infrastructure fund that is the company’s leading backer (BlueMountain Capital and Goldman Sachs are also investors). The entry of Macquarie and other large global investors is changing the way that data centers are built, powered and funded. Aligned wants to be on the front edge of that trend, and is tapping Macquarie’s expertise and connections to innovate in its supply chain, seeking to build faster and more efficiently.
Schaap said those supply chain efficiencies, along with Macquarie’s ability to finance growth at attractive rates, has helped Aligned compete with the largest players in the game. North American Data Centers, which tracks wholesale data center leasing activity, reported that Aligned signed five leases of 2 megawatts or more in 2018, including deals with some of the largest hyperscale companies.
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With its focus on “smart infrastructure,” Aligned specializes in solving capacity management challenges through innovation in cooling and the supply chain, Aligned’s offering is positioned to appeal to technology-focused customers, especially growing Internet companies.
Aligned’s focus on intelligent infrastructure gained early interest from hyperscale players, but Schaap says it is now seeing a surge in interest from enterprise customers, whose data center requirements have been complicated by emerging technologies, including ASI, the Internet of Things, augmented reality. Many are also grappling with an active acquisition environment, which can drive IT consolidations.
Scaling Up, Not Out
Schaap says the company’s cooling technology will allow customers to “scale up” by adding power capacity instead of more space, housing up to 50kW per cabinet in IT equipment. Aligned describes its design as an “adaptive data center” which enables tenants to put low-density and high-density racks next to one another in a data hall, a configuration which is often problematic.
The cooling wall in the 25,000 square foot data hall inside Aligned Ashburn illustrates the concept. Fan walls have been in use in data centers for at least a decade, and a number of large companies embrace the technology, including Microsoft. The design introduces air into one side of the data hall, and using the fans to maintain the desired temperature and air pressure across throughout the room.
Aligned adds a few new wrinkles to enable expandability and power density. The Ashburn cooling wall features vertical stacks of the Delta Cube cooling units, which are about 4 feet wide and house multiple fan coils, allowing them to cool workloads of up to 50 kW per cabinet. The wall also contains space that allows for additional rows of Delta Cube units to be installed, providing additional capacity within the data hall. Aligned says the system can handle a Delta-T (the difference between cool supply air and hot return air from server exhaust) of up to 45 degrees.
This ability to scale in place without having to reconfigure existing infrastructure is key to Aligned’s value proposition. The company says it can deliver a low PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness, a key energy efficiency metric) of 1.15, while using less water than many other cooling designs.
Alignment, Front and Center
Aligned’s Ashburn campus will feature three buildings on 26 acres of land around the perimeter of Quantum Park, which also houses a large office complex for Verizon. The company’s growth will be supported by the construction of a Dominion Power substation on adjacent land.
As he guides a visitor through the new building just days before opening, Schaap notes the many ways the company is incorporating its “aligned” philosophy, seeking to connect with the customer’s goals for its business as well as its technology. The glass walls of conference rooms feature messaging about the many facets of alignment the company is seeking to deliver. Walls are adorned with murals featuring the Aligned logo and values.
The Virginia presence provides Aligned with a truly national footprint, and Schaap believes the company is hitting its stride. With its entrance into Data Center Alley, Aligned brings another new competitor into the industry’s hottest market.
CloudHQ and Iron Mountain entered the Northern Virginia market in 2017, and Vantage Data Centers and QTS Data Centers have all jumped into the market with large new campuses in 2018. Compass Datacenters expects to bring new capacity online later this year. The incumbents are also adding capacity. Digital Realty is creating an enormous new campus, while RagingWire, CoreSite, Sabey Data Centers, Equinix and CyrusOne are all adding new capacity.
Ashburn is home to the world’s densest fiber network, and the new Aligned Ashburn sits positioned atop fiber and conduit routes that offer access to more than 50 carriers in the immediate area. Aligned’s building is less than 800 feet from the original UUNET-managed MAE East Exchange, the first Internet Exchange Point, and less than a mile from the Equinix campus that is the current center of connectivity in Northern Virginia.