November 11, 2014
The other day I was reading an article that said that Northern Virginia was about to surpass the New York/New Jersey metro area as the data center capital of the good ole’ USA. While I’m sure that this shift in the data center sphere of influence is upsetting to more than a few Garden State area residents (let’s face it, most of the customers may be Big Apple based, but if the NY/NJ market were a movie it would be “Jersey Girl”), the “can do” folks in Loudon county are pleased as punch by their execution of this industry version of a coup d’etat. However, as the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for…” since with over 5.2 million square feet of data center space, things must be getting a little crowded in the city of Ashburn and its nearby environs. While it’s debatable if man can live on bread alone, I think all of us know that the question would be moot if we had no Walmart or Kroger to buy it from, and that’s what the good citizens of the state’s DC area suburbs might be grappling with if they aren’t careful. In the interest of more effective regional planning, and to help ensure that no northern Virginian is deprived of their right to access the strip mall of their choice, I think that some prime space may available right up the road to help off-load the area’s data center demand with just a little repurposing. That’s right, I’m talking about the White House and the Capitol Building.
Some of you may be appalled that I would suggest, perhaps, the most iconic buildings in our country to become the future homes of a plethora of servers and storage gear, but if you really think about it, the real question is why not? If we look at things from a pure space perspective, both buildings certainly qualify as “data center convertible”. The presidential abode, for example, is 55,000 square feet just itching for some perforated tile, and the Capitol building checks in at a virtually Google-like 1.5 million sq. ft. Both boast pretty decent security—a picture ID is required to get into each, and you don’t even need that to vote in most states—although 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue could probably use either a little higher fence and/or some razor wire to deter some of the area’s more mentally unstable residents from dropping in for an impromptu visit.
From a design standpoint, I’d put either of these proposed locations up against anything you’d find in DC’s surrounding suburbs. “Industrial chic” may be all the rage in the Old Dominion state, but up against the nation’s two most prominent examples of Greek revivalism, is it even close? I’ve been to Ashburn and I’ve yet to see a data center with a dome and Ionic columns. I also think these changes in functionality would be, at worse, revenue neutral for all of us tax paying Americans. Sure, we’d be losing the tourist revenue, but wouldn’t that be more than offset by a really competitive cloud-pricing model?
Since the current congressional approval rating has to look up to see 14%, I don’t think most folks would have a problem with the Capitol building part of the equation, but some of you may be concerned about the future sleeping arrangements for our dispossessed president and his family. To this objection I answer, “fear not”. For those of you who had a high school history class anytime before about 1985, you know that our country’s chief executive did not always reside in his current domicile. Our second president, John Adams, was actually the White House’s first resident while it was still under construction—I think they were still pouring the indoor pool—and James Madison and his wife, Dolly, had to stay at a local Best Western after the British took a torch to the place in 1814, so I’m sure the current occupant could make do in a nice Georgetown brownstone.
Personally, I view this proposal as a win/win for all involved. The suburban squires of northern Virginia are spared from the unceasing encroachment of data center sprawl, and the rest of us actually get to benefit from, as they say, “a government that works for us”. Perhaps this may even start a trend to be adopted in other foreign capitals. I mean, honestly, does the Queen really need all that room in Buckingham Palace? And I have to believe that the Kremlin has a few hundred thousand square feet that they aren’t really using. In a sense, this is the perfect melding of government and business, and with these new DC-based data centers operating under the watchful eye of some this nation’s best bureaucrats, what could go wrong?