Jail House RockBoy, you just never know where someone is going to put a data center nowadays. Sure, places like Iowa, Nebraska and even, for God’s sake, Iceland, are emerging as new homes for enormous compute and storage facilities but a former prison farm? Talk about your urban renewal. That’s what the good people of Guilford, North Carolina are proposing as a potential use for the 800 acres that is currently the home for a state prison farm. Although this is still in the proposal stage, I think this potential marriage between the data center industry and our national system of incarceration raises some interesting prospects.

First, let me begin by saying that I think the fact that this is a prison farm means that we aren’t talking about a facility that houses some of our more hard care anti-social individuals. Maybe back in the old chain gang days you might have had some hardcore felon picking the tomatoes, but now its probably just some guy who stole a few 100 thousand from a company pension fund. In other words, the more security conscious among you can breathe a little easier. I find it hard to conjure up an image of some balding, overweight, middle-aged accountant in a prison jump suit taking over a data center while screaming out, “Come and get me, coppers”.

Security concerns are further reduced when you factor in that the farm also includes the county’s shooting range for members of the local constabulary, the prison guards and the FBI. While perhaps a little noisy, a plethora of armed law enforcement officials would definitely be considered a deterrent by even the most curious passerby.

I think that from an architectural standpoint, prisons and data centers are a match made in heaven. Both tend to shy away from being terribly conspicuous, and are designed to keep unauthorized folks from getting in and keeping what’s inside secure. When you think about it, if you tossed in some iron bars on the windows, and added a few gun turrets, the average data center could easily be adapted to house some of our most incorrigible miscreants.

Certainly converting the prison’s farmland to a data center site would limit the employment opportunities—such as they are—for the facilities inmates. Not every ward of the state has the skill set necessary to be a data center technician, but on the plus side, this new surge in free time allows more time for the rehabilitation activities that will once again make these guys useful and productive members of society. Or, if all else fails, I’ve noticed that more and more people are using those vanity license plates lately and those have to be made somewhere. And since those things are customized, rather than stamped out en mass, a level of artisanship above that of the run of the mill license plate stamper must be required. So, as a result, we have a prison that is turning out trained craftsman instead just a bunch of guys that can tell the difference between a head of lettuce and kale.

If you’re like me, you appreciate innovation wherever you find it. I don’t know whether the folks in Guilford will ultimately build a data center on their prison farm or not but I applaud their out of the box thinking. I’m not sure that every penitentiary is a potential data center destination, but this union of Big Data and the Big House does offer the potential for safer and more humane solutions for solving our nation’s crime problems. As the old prison saying goes, “No one ever got shanked in a data center”.

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