Northern Virginia, specifically the adjoining Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William counties, all in close proximity to Washington, D.C., is the biggest data center market in the world, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the global commercial real estate services firm. Northern Virginia dwarfs all major data center markets worldwide and is larger than all other U.S. markets combined. Such data center scale of operation and concentration brings substantial opportunities and some pretty significant challenges. Victor Hoskins, President/CEO, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) and Juan Font, President and CEO of CoreSite and SVP of U.S. Tower, shared with Inside Towers their perspectives of the growth outlook for Northern Virginia.
UPDATE Connected DMV has submitted a proposal to the regional Economic Development agencies and the U.S. Energy Department for a $3.4 billion investment to be shared 50:50 between the public and private sectors for building more gas lines, strengthening the electric grid, and expanding offshore wind power. “The idea is to look at the larger power consumption needs of the region,” Hoskins comments.
CoreSite acquired a 23-acre campus in 2016, for what is now its VA3 data center, which has nearly one million square feet and capacity up to 54 MW specifically in this facility. The site can accommodate development of VA4 and VA5 data centers for a total capacity of over 100 MW. Font says, “We’re in a different grid than Ashburn, so we have line of sight and we’re working very closely with the utility.” Massive cloud centers will eventually become more distributed outside of Northern Virginia to other parts of the country because of utility constraints but that content and compute capability must move closer to end users. “It’s a challenge but a fantastic problem to have,” he concedes.
Font says American Tower and CoreSite are a powerful combination because they predict a convergence between wireline and wireless, and related infrastructure. Wireless is in the midst of its 5G rollout that will be fully enabled over time, followed by 6G. The compute potential in mobile devices could be 10 times what it is today. All of this means that with content fed wirelessly across a metro, that data must be ingested and computed in close proximity to the metro, not only for latency but also the cost of transporting that data. “We are big believers that edge is going to be the place where compute moves, and the tower plays a significant factor because it is one of the most efficient ways to disseminate high-speed bandwidth across the public, particularly those that are moving around,” he says.
American Tower has identified over 25 edge data center sites that are shovel ready. Font says that they are already seeing demand for workloads that need to be in close proximity to a cluster of towers. Wireless carriers that build their own mobile edge compute capabilities, ultimately, will have to connect to the towers. “It’s much more efficient if you have a neutral host where you can collect traffic from the MNOs. That is the CoreSite and American Tower model for a shared host environment,” he says.
Font points out that not all kilowatts are created equal, meaning not all data centers serve the same purpose. Cloud infrastructure is in large data centers, typically serving a single tenant, like a hyperscaler or a massive video platform like Netflix. CoreSite provides network interconnections and cloud on-ramps with a simple fiber cross connect in its facilities.
“We’ve determined two places in Northern Virginia where you can connect directly to the clouds, and CoreSite is one of them. Therefore, Fairfax County attracts a lot of enterprises for that purpose. All that content has to egress out to the networks and digital platforms. We enable all the different sectors and communities to interoperate. For us, it just adds more capacity for our customers,” he explains.
Hoskins sums up saying, “People like Stu Solomon and Juan keep us growing at the level we need to grow because if we don’t do it at scale, we won’t achieve anything. We’ll do well, but we won’t achieve the maximum that we can and I’m just excited to be part of it.”
Fonts adds, “Sustainability is an important topic these days. By virtue of moving compute workloads from a private enterprise data center to a site like CoreSite, we are removing massive amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere. We operate 30, 40 or 50 percent more efficiently than a traditional enterprise data center. We’re in the midst of the digital revolution and Fairfax County and Virginia are leading the way. This is underpinning digital infrastructure that supports applications we cannot conceive of today. And having partners like Victor with the foresight to plan 10, 20 years ahead, I think positions us very well.”
By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor