Secure Data Warehouses Rise Again in N. Virginia

Don Teague, vice president of Savvis Federal Systems, in one of the company's centers. Savvis just opened a new facility in Sterling.
Don Teague, vice president of Savvis Federal Systems, in one of the company's centers. Savvis just opened a new facility in Sterling. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

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By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 15, 2007

They are among the most fortified institutions in greater Washington. Personnel pass through "man traps," secure one-person entrances equipped with biometric scanners that read fingerprints, palms or retinas.

What are they guarding?

Data.

Several projects are underway in Northern Virginia to build highly secure data centers to protect the thousands of computer servers managing Internet traffic and storing digital files, ranging from e-mail to sensitive financial and medical information.

A growing appetite for Internet applications and a better understanding of the vulnerabilities in such systems after Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has helped revive an industry that had been hit hard by the dot-com bust.

"We've seen more activity in companies coming in and buying existing sites and quite a bit of new construction than we've seen in a long time," said Rich Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge, an online trade publication.

Data-center construction accelerated this year, said John Kraft, chief executive of ServerVault, a Dulles-based data-center manager.

Analysts estimate that there are now 15,000 to 20,000 data centers across the country. One industry survey found that 80 percent of companies have plans to expand their facilities.

It's unclear how long the boom will last. A slowing economy could temper demand, as could rising power costs.

Data centers use an immense amount of electricity to run and cool rows of servers. In 2006, U.S. data centers consumed 61 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, at a cost of $4.5 billion, according to a recent Environmental Protection Agency report. That's enough electricity to power 5.8 million average American households in a year.

The recent construction activity is a turnaround of sorts.

During the dot-com boom, developers jumped into speculative data-center development. They counted on dozens of Internet start-ups looking for a place to park their data.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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