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How Ashburn Became Ashburn

Some of us from the NVTC Data Center & Cloud Infrastructure Committee recently participated in a panel discussion at AFCOM Data Center World. The topic of the panel discussion was “The Making of Data Center Alley – How Ashburn, VA Became the Top Data Center Market in the World.”

Over the last two decades or so, Ashburn has clearly made its mark on the Internet infrastructure industry. It is indeed the leading data center market in the world – if you go by numbers, over 75 data centers, 10M sq. ft. of operating data center capacity, over 1 GW (1000 MW), with another 4.5M sq. ft. under development. Just to put things in perspective, 1 MW can power one single-family home, so that is enough to power 1,000 single family homes. Dominion Energy has done a phenomenal job of being a fantastic partner of the data center community. In addition to constantly adding capacity, they also have various renewable energy programs in place for the data center community to utilize.

Loudoun County takes the lead in all data center markets globally; however, Prince William County, Henrico County and Hampton Roads are regions coming up as well in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Data centers contribute over $180M annually in revenue to Loudoun County every year. There are over 3,000 technology companies housed in the Loudoun County data centers.

Ashburn VA EcosystemNorthern Virginia boasts a technically-skilled workforce. The huge presence of government technology contracting companies has also contributed to this pool of talented workers. Data center operators are continuing their buildouts at a rapid pace. Increasing investments in building new and upgrading existing data centers that support the provision of cloud services is among the main drivers of growth.

Other drivers of the data center forecast include growing use of big data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) technology, and a growing need for data center colocation and managed services. Technologies like virtual reality, video, social media and banking are also leading to more data generation and data consumption.

Connectivity is a vital component of the data center business model. Whatever data comes in to the data center, must go out. The data may be brought in on 18-wheelers trucks with cabinets full of servers, with servers full of data, but it must go out over fiber optic cables, comprised of thin strands of fiber glass thinner than human hair.

Blog Image 4It is believed that over 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic passes through Loudoun County. There are several hundred networks present in this region on which traffic is changing hands, in order to get to its final destination in the most optimum path. Loudoun County boasts the most interconnected location in the Northeast and is also home to several Internet exchanges that enable multiple parties to connect with each other and exchange traffic.

Northern Virginia is where the first commercial exchange was born called MAE-East (Metropolitan Area Exchange) by Metropolitan Fiber Systems (MFS) in Tysons Corner in 1992. Since then, several connectivity-centric companies have made a mark in the Northern Virginia landscape including UUNET, PSINet, AOL and Equinix, to name a few. Terrestrial fiber construction has continued perpetually; you constantly see fiber splice trucks, and road being dug up wherein new conduit systems and terrestrial fiber optic cables are being installed underneath the roads. We have seen the installation of 3,456 strand fiber cable installed in the Northern Virginia region. The region boasts some of the country’s most fiber dense roads as depicted in this image courtesy of NEFiber.

Blog Image 3Until recently, in order for the international Internet traffic to leave the state of Virginia and reach its destination in other parts of the world, it had to be first sent to New York, New Jersey or Florida. This is because the “landing stations” where the subsea fiber systems terminate existed only in these three states in the Eastern Seaboard. This changed in 2017 as Virginia got its first subsea cable, MAREA, connecting Bilbao, Spain to Virginia Beach. The second subsea cable coming to Virginia, BRUSA, is expected to be completed later this year connecting the state of Virginia directly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Fortaleza and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The direct international connections will further give the data center community in Virginia more connectivity options for low-latency fast connection to various international destinations. There are also several other subsea fiber projects under consideration for Virginia Beach.

In summary, Ashburn has attracted data center and connectivity providers from all over the country. Every major data center provider (retail or wholesale), every major cloud provider, every major terrestrial fiber connectivity provider is in Northern Virginia, and now subsea fiber operators are coming to the state of Virginia.

About the Author – Vinay Nagpal

Vinay Nagpal has over 23 years of global experience developing data center and connectivity solutions with a strong knowledge of subsea and terrestrial fiber systems. Nagpal has held several senior-level positions at Digital Realty, DuPont Fabros, Tata Communications, Verizon, MCI, Digex and UUNET, developing carrier-neutral connectivity and data center solutions in the  U.S, Canada, London, Singapore, Australia and India. Nagpal served on Open-IX board, leading the formation of standards for distributed Internet exchanges. Currently based out of Washington, D.C., Nagpal serves on the Leadership Board of the NVTC Data Center & Cloud Infrastructure Committee and is actively involved in the subsea developments taking place in Virginia Beach. Email Vinay Nagpal.