March 28, 2014
Just read that Equinix is going to build a new 1 million square foot facility in Virginia. I must admit that my first reaction the news was the equivalent of Charlie Brown’s one sided dialogues with his teacher—“wah, wah, wah, wah”—since, for most of us, data center size figures are getting to be like the national debt, the numbers are so large we can’t wrap our heads around them. As I mulled this situation around in my mind, I couldn’t help but be struck by the realization that many of us are losing sight of just how big facilities like Equinix’s really are. While none of us would argue that a million square feet is nothing to sneeze at, even CyrusOne, kings of Massively Modular, would say that a data center of that size falls to the far extreme of the “Massive Scale”. I think that our inability to appreciate the magnitude of what the folks at Equinix are planning to construct upon 23 acres—or as the folks at Apple would say, “a small portion of our solar farm”—in the “Old Dominion” is due to a lack of perspective. While we all intuitively know that a million square feet is big, without anything to compare it to, the degree of magnitude is difficult for us to grasp.
While nobody would describe a data center as “majestic”, that term is often used in connection with the Taj Mahal, Since you could fit 29 “Tajes” inside a million square foot data center, perhaps via the transitive property—raise your hand if you weren’t expecting any math in this blog—majesty could be bestowed on these computing locations with Jack’s magic beans. If ancient houses of worship aren’t your idea of the best size standard, might I propose an aquatic alternative? If you’re all about all things water, then the fact that you could get 3.5 Forrestal class aircraft carriers or 74 Olympic swimming pools within a million square foot structure may present more relatable scales of magnitude.
Of course we can always use that old standby, the football field, as our measuring stick—you can get 17 of those babies in a million square feet—or the size of the average American home to determine that you’d have 463 neighbors in a million square foot colossus, but since Americans are always accused of being too infatuated with size let’s try some using some of our iconic buildings as our units of measurement. For example, there would be no line to stand in for the next White House tour since a million square foot facility could house 18 of them. And our two greatest presidents, Washington and Lincoln, would be well represented in an Equinix size location since it could hold either 91 Mt. Vernon’s or 36 Lincoln memorials within its four walls.
Some may say that size is relative, and, as we can see, this is especially true when there is no answer to the question of “compared to what?” However, when we compare the concept of a million square feet to items that we are all familiar with, it is easy to see that the data center Equinix is planning to build is, well, big. I think this newfound appreciation for size is a good thing for the locations that are courting the industry’s mega providers. While the footprint of a potential provider probably won’t deter them from welcoming them into the community, at least they’ll have a better idea of what they could have had instead.