PHOENIX, Ariz. – When it entered the data center business three years ago, Aligned Energy knew how difficult it can be to predict the future. That’s why it created a flexible data center design that can increase power capacity as a customer adds servers, even within its existing footprint.
Aligned’s focus on intelligent infrastructure is gaining traction with customers, particularly those with high-density IT workloads. With a new financial partner and a retooled executive team, Aligned is expanding across four geographic markets, and seeking new growth opportunities.
Chief Executive Officer Andrew Schaap says Aligned is beginning to hit its stride, benefiting from uncertainty about how IT infrastructure will adapt to emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, augmented reality and more.
“Everyone throws around the term ‘future-proofing,’ but we can actually do it in a real way,” said Schaap. “It really gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Scaling Up, Not Out
The company’s progress is visible as you walk through its Phoenix data center, a massive former Honeywell factory spanning 550,000 square feet. Aligned has landed several large wholesale deals in Phoenix, helping fill much of the 150,000 square foot first phase.
The second phase is now under construction, with one data hall already delivered to a customer and another in the final stages of preparation. Phase II will create an additional 200,000 square feet of data center space and 60 megawatts of capacity.
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 company’s technology made an impression on industry veteran Phill Lawson-Shanks, who recently joined Aligned as Chief Development Officer. Lawson-Shanks arrives from EdgeConneX, where he helped the company rapidly build a national data center footprint and expand into the hyperscale market.
Sharpening the Sustainability Focus
Aligned was founded in 2015, launched its first data center in Plano, Texas in 2016 and its second site in Phoenix in May 2017. This year it has announced two additional expansion campuses in Salt Lake City and Ashburn, Virgina.
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 Energy sharpened its messaging with the arrival of Schaap as CEO in June 2017, with co-founder Jacob Carnemark shifting to the Chief Technology Officer role.
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Sustainability has become a more prominent theme in the company’s marketing, which promises to deliver “a noticeable business advantage, while helping secure the health of the planet.” Aligned says it can support a PUE (Power Usage Efficiency) of 1.15 in any climate, and sharply reduce use of water, which is a growing concern for large customers..
New Financial Partner Boost Expansion
A key step in Aligned’s evolution was a new round of funding earlier this year, with Macquarie Infrastructure Partners (MIP) making a “significant” investment. Aligned didn’t disclose the financial details of the investment, but it’s large enough that the company will now be jointly controlled by Macquarie and initial backer BlueMountain Capital Management.
The funding has supported Aligned’s expansion, allowing it to add capacity in existing markets and make its long-expected entrance into Northern Virginia, the world’s largest and most competitive data center market.
MIP is an Australian firm that has been a major investor in airports, ports, and energy assets, including the distribution and storage of oil and natural gas. In recent years, it has expanded its focus to digital infrastructure, including data centers. Schaap says Macquarie’s backing provides Aligned with both resources and expertise.
“The nice thing is that they have tons of access to capital and gave us the ability to grow,” said Schaap. “They’re fantastic partners, very sophisticated and they take a long-term view.”
That includes entering into new geographic markets, and the option to participate in the ongoing consolidation in the data center industry.
“We’re keeping our eyes open for growth opportunities,” said Schaap.
A Larger Vision in Utah
Schaap came to Aligned from Digital Realty, the largest player in the wholesale data center sector, where he was Senior Vice President of Global Solutions. In that position, Schaap was responsible for global large-scale, client-driven data center builds.
That philosophy was reflected in Aligned’s expansion into Salt Lake City, which was influenced by an anchor customer seeing to place infrastructure in that market. Prior to Aligned’s arrival, the multi-tenant data center market in Utah consisted primarily of smaller colocation centers, with no facilities larger than 11 megawatts.
The Salt Lake City suburbs are home to several huge single-tenant data centers, including facilities for eBay and the National Security Agency. Just a month after Aligned launched its Salt Lake City expansion, Facebook announced plans to build a massive data center campus just down the road in Eagle Mountain.
That momentum has prompted Aligned to expand its roadmap for the Utah campus.
“We’re really pleased with Salt Lake City,” said Schaap. “We’ve had such good feedback, we’re master-planning another 80 megawatts.”
Aligned is retrofitting a former Fairchild Semiconductors chip fabrication facility in West Jordan. Once it fills the initial 50-megawatt facility, Aligned plans to add a second building on the 60-acre site, which includes a dedicated utility substation.
The project reflects a construction transition for Aligned. With its first three campuses, it bought existing properties. In Ashburn. Aligned will build from the ground-up with a “greenfield” design for a 180-megawatt data center campus on a historic telecom property in “Data Center Alley.” The company says it will build 880,000 square feet of data center space at Quantum Park, the former UUNet site that was a key connectivity hub dating to the early days of the Internet.
Between its four sites, Aligned can now deploy just shy of 500 megawatts of data center capacity.
Density Drives Opportunity
Data center rack density is trending higher, prompted by growing adoption of powerful hardware to support artificial intelligence applications. In the most prominent example, Google has recently shifted to liquid cooling with its latest hardware for artificial intelligence. This will create a growing opportunity for specialists in high-density hosting, perhaps boosted by the rise of edge computing.
“There’s so many unknowns about what may change over the next five years,” said Anubhav Raj, the Chief Financial Officer at Aligned. “CIOs have a hard time figuring out what they need next.” Aligned’s design offers flexibility to meet a range of requirements.
Aligned isn’t the only player targeting high-density workloads. Others with a track record in super-dense deployments include Switch in Las Vegas and Reno, Infomart in Portland, Silicon Valley’s Colovore and ScaleMatrix in San Diego, among others.
Raj believes the data center industry is in growth mode, especially in the largest markets like Dallas, Ashburn and Phoenix.
“There’s been a lot of demand in primary markets, and I think that will continue,” he said. “2017 was a big year, and 2018 will be even bigger. We think 2019 and 2020 could be bigger still.”
What about expansion beyond those major markets? “We’re listening to our customers, and the rest of the dots on the map will be drawn by where the customers take us,” he said, noting that secondary markets with the right attributes can grow very quickly.
“In 2012, people saw Phoenix as a secondary market,” said Raj. “This year, it’s second to Northern Virginia. There will be many case studies like Phoenix in the next five years.”