Server-packed buildings form backbone of Information Age

  • KATHY DAY / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, November 11, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News


Herald Writer

Ever wondered where your click goes on a Web site?

As Jay Garthwaite of Infoage Services puts it, it goes to a place where “a symphony of events occurs … the hums, bumps and whirs” that happen before you get your information.

That place, which he’s in the business of helping to develop, is the “infrastructure part of the Information Age,” he explained.

It goes by one of several names: data center, server farm, colocation center or telecom hotel – or the latest moniker, data fort. It’s a building filled with servers that make the direct interface with the Web, memory banks and the content itself, Garthwaite said.

“Content needs a place to live and it must be served up quickly or it’s no good,” he said.

Garthwaite’s company, a consortium of people who used to work for or with Microsoft, is working with developers on nearly four dozen centers around the world, including several in Snohomish County. The idea is to pack as much equipment as possible into a small space to make them as economical as possible.

Equipment is stacked in racks 7 to 9 feet high, as tight as it can be packed, and must be operable 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also has to have “five-9s,” 99.999 percent accuracy. Today those racks can pack up to 60 servers per rack, as opposed to the 2.8 they handled only a few years ago.

Centers come in varying shapes. There’s “machine space,” which is essentially all equipment – and very few people, or “people space” with what Garthwaite calls “benches for the digital blacksmith.”

In the latter case, a company can “rent a cage” or an enclosure where it can set up its own equipment and have secure access to it. In the former, company officials may never step inside the center, preferring instead to contract with the data center to manage the equipment for them and have a “place to place their stuff,” he explained.

Companies with intense needs for servers and reliability will pay several thousand dollars per square foot a month for this type of service, Garthwaite noted. In fact, developers are collecting rents that are typically twice as much as they get for first-class office space, he added.

And they’re good business for communities, he noted, because they don’t generate traffic, don’t have great parking needs, and don’t put students in schools. But they do generate tax revenues, he said.

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