08 Sep TEAM data center could accelerate Madison's IT momentum
Fitchburg, Wis. – Thanks to the storms that hit Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Upper Midwest in June, the prospect of workers staring at blank computer screens for prolonged periods no longer seems unlikely. That point was driven home last week during the Phase I unveiling of TEAM Companies’ new Tier 3 data center on the Fitchburg Technology Campus.
Madison technology powerhouse CDW Berbee serves as the anchor tenant, but the TEAM facility also will serve as the back-up data center for a variety of companies in Greater Madison, Wisconsin, and perhaps beyond. When the second and third phases are completed, the $40 million center will have 60,000 square feet of space for storage and redundancy.
“I think this complements nicely some of the other announcements in the Greater Madison area with Microsoft and some of the other companies opening up offices in the area,” said Michael Zimmerman, economic development coordinator for the City of Fitchburg. “I think it shows that the Greater Madison region has some strength in that [IT] industry cluster.”
The Fitchburg center will create up to 20 new jobs with average wages exceeding $25 per hour, so aside from creating work for the construction trades, individual centers themselves would not add significantly to the employment base. However, their presence could serve as a lure for high-tech firms.
Madison and its surrounding communities are attempting to grow and attract more information technology companies. From an economic development standpoint, the need for data storage and redundancy will support information technology, one of the industry clusters that Fitchburg is well positioned to build. The city is home to CDW Berbee, which now has facilities in both the Fitchburg Center and the Fitchburg Technology Campus.
“With the capacity here for TEAM Companies, and the whole data center project and the hosting capabilities that they have, it just provides more opportunities for more information technology cluster businesses to gravitate toward this area,” Zimmerman said.
Most stand-alone data centers are located in industrial parks, but the TEAM facility was built near a residential neighborhood. That required the company, the city, and residents to work together on noise abatement. Zimmerman said the noise concerns required the use of state-of-the-art equipment, both from the generators and the HVAC system, plus some additional sound attenuation.
“I think it’s a perfect example of a good economic development project where it can be a win-win for everybody,” Zimmerman said. “You can locate good, strong technology companies like TEAM with their data center here in close proximity to a residential neighborhood, and they can be good neighbors.
“The neat thing about it is that you have people that live and work right in this neighborhood.”
The data center also could bring more business neighbors. Bettsey Barhorst, president of Madison Area Technical College, said the college is looking for a redundant site to serve as a backup to the data center at its Truax Campus, near Dane County Regional Airport.
“We have thousands of computers and we have people who are dependent, both for classes and just for running classes, and so of course we would look at something like this,” she said.
Having a data center in the Fitchburg area also may serve an MATC campus in the Fitchburg area. “Being at the other end of the Isthmus from the Truax campus, which is the airport area, we`re actually looking at opening one of our campuses down in this area simply because it seems to be so far,” Barhorst said. “The Isthmus seems to be a barrier to students coming north.”
State of data centers?
Some believe that Wisconsin’s cold winter climate, where cool air can take some of the energy load off cooling systems, make it ideal for the development of “green” data centers.
TEAM Companies’ Mark Stewart, however, said chilled water is more likely than cold air to make Wisconsin a haven for data centers because of issues with air pollutants and humidification. “There are two sides of it,” he explained. “The air side, where you’re actually just pulling air in from the outside, we have not found the advantage because you have to treat the air once you get it in here. It kind of washes out that advantage.”
However, the chilly air would have an indirect benefit, Stewart indicated. “Doing the water side, where we’re actually using the outside air to chill our water and then recycling it, will be an advantage,” he said. “So definitely the Wisconsin environment, the colder winters [would attract more data centers], absolutely. That and the energy price.”
TEAM Companies now has data centers in Fitchburg and Cedar Falls, Iowa, storing and protecting information for regional and Fortune 500 businesses. The “fail-safe” Fitchburg center has security features such as retina scanners for personal identification, and 14-to-24 inch concrete, steel-reinforced walls that are built to withstand an F4 tornado with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour.
Its fire-detection system can identify small traces of smoke molecules and, according to TEAM, multiple levels of redundancy and back up virtually eliminate the likelihood of a catastrophic failure.
The center employs a “hot aisle-cold aisle” approach, which avoids energy-gobbling mixtures of hot and cold air, and cooler air is dropped down from above rather than piped up through the floor, as is the case in some data centers. (In fact, cable, power, and cooling systems all are overhead, Stewart said). Multiple points of redundancy added to the cost of construction, but they provide the reliability needed by clients in heavily regulated industries like healthcare and finance.
Each phase of the data center will have two data rooms, and each data room will have 160 cabinets containing computer servers (10 rows of 16 cabinets).
Carl Christiansen, CIO of the Marshfield Clinic, has been through the facility at different stages of construction, and has come away impressed. “I’ve seen a lot of data centers in my time,” he said, “and this is the best-designed data center I’ve ever been in.”
Gary Wolter, president and CEO of Madison Gas & Electric Co., said the benefits of energy efficiency are a real, not an oversold aspect of data centers. He said the facility is outstanding for the function it will provide to a variety of companies throughout the Midwest, and to Dane County.
“It’s not only the energy efficiency that is built into the entire data center,” Wolter said, “but our focus also is on energy reliability and making sure a data center such as this, which is counted on by so many different people, is up and running 24/7, 365 days a year.”