The Sky’s the LimitJust noticed that Telehouse is planning to erect an 11-story data center in London. I guess it was inevitable. The gauntlet has been thrown down and the battle for behemoth status has now gone vertical.

Personally, I think the addition of height to the whole data center size wars makes the whole concept more understandable to the average man on the street. While everyone can appreciate the fact that 1 million square feet meets any definition of big, it’s really hard to visualize. Everyone, however, understands the whole height/size continuum. Think about it the last time you saw a really tall person or persons—at a basketball game for instance—your observation was probably more along the lines of, “Man, are those guys big”, rather than, “Those are some rather tall individuals out there”. In essence, our natural default position is that one can be big without being tall, but no one can be tall without being big.

Verticality in data centers also strikes me as being more challenging than their horizontal counterparts. First of all, you have some pretty strict boundaries in the world of the upwardly oriented facility. Anyone can build a sprawling, humungous architectural blight on a few hundred acres of Iowa cornfield, but just try doing that when you’re surrounded by office buildings and hotels, and you’re going to have some serious zoning issues. I think you get the picture.

Aesthetics also come into play when you’re planning to build the Empire State Building of data centers. Although the average data center resembles a government building, only uglier, since they are frequently built in areas where the only competition for the land are correctional facilities and military bases, this isn’t really an issue for city fathers. As Telehouse is about to find out, if you try to erect one of these monuments to pre-cast concrete in the home of Shakespeare someone’s going to have a problem with it. Consequently, although they aren’t standard data center building materials or components, plan to add a lot of marble, glass and magazines for the lobby to your bill of materials.

It should be said that this new “race to the sky” probably does have its limits. Unlike their sprawling counterparts that can continue to grow by engulfing large swathes of unused prairie land, the vertical data center has some practical limits. For instance, a data center on the 11th floor is one thing, but what if someone tried to lease you space on the 99th? “Look, I can see my house from here” isn’t traditionally considered a benefit by the discerning data center customer, and taking the freight elevator up a thousand feet or so to switch out a few racks doesn’t strike me as anyone’s idea of a good time. While I don’t know how high the world’s tallest data center will eventually be, I can guarantee you that the folks who built the 2,722 foot high Burj Khalifa in Dubai aren’t lying awake at night worrying about it.

The verticalization of the data center is another step in the continuing evolution of our industry. Every industry uses relatable benchmarks to mark its growth. Achievements in size, height and capacity do enable us to step back periodically and take a moment to see how important data centers have become to the global economy. Although we can’t necessarily measure our progress by the height of a facility, it does provide us with something to point to – high speed internet at it’s finest.

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