SALT LAKE CITY, Utah. — Every day, we use our phones and computers for thousands of tasks. Each one of those texts, photos or emails produces data. That data doesn’t really exist in a cloud in the sky; it’s all kept on computers in a large building.
“This is where the internet lives. Basically, it's like a hotel for computers,” explained Wes Swenson, CEO of NOVVA Data Centers in Utah.
Swenson is building one of the largest data centers in the nation, and soon, thousands of computers will sit inside the campus, holding everything from old photos to banking information to medical records.
Data centers have exploded in number across the country and the world in recent years. As the internet has grown, so has the need for us to store all of our information.
Companies keep all their computers in one place because it’s cheaper and faster, with less maintenance and staffing required.
They also help users access applications on their mobile phones and get information quicker than a blink of an eye, literally.
“It takes about 300 milliseconds to blink. We're moving data at 10 to 20 milliseconds across the United States,” said Swenson.
Over the next three years, Swenson’s 1.5 million square feet of data center space will fill up with clients. He said he built the building larger than the client list he has today to make room for the growth he expects to see.
“I just don't ever see these going away. I think they're here to stay. Forever,” said Swenson.
Yet, even bigger than the need for these places, is one question: with rapidly changing technology, how can we keep our data safe?
“Security is paramount, and that includes cyber security as well as physical security,” said Swenson.
This data center is equipped to keep hackers out. It has state-of-the-art cyber protections to make sure data is not compromised. It has some revolutionary defenses on the ground, too.
To get into the center in the first place, you have to make it through door locks with facial recognition technology and weight sensing technology. That way, certain clients can make sure visitors do not remove anything from the data center.
The command center is surrounded by bulletproof glass, and the computers are protected in cages and have remote monitoring for any changes in temperature. That way, fires or sparks can be detected quickly.
Then, there’s Wire, the robot dog.
Wire makes the rounds to make sure no machine is overheating, and if something goes wrong, it sends an electronic ‘bark’ to the staff.
It has facial recognition technology and can detect who is an employee and who is an intruder.
Additionally, it also measures the temperature inside the data center to make sure all machines are working properly.
Swenson said this machine is helping take the mundane job of a security patrol officer and can add more high-tech jobs to maintain the robot. It is also much more precise than a human and will be able to detect smaller changes in the data center.
The center is also equipped with an autonomous drone that has infrared sensor technology. It works with Wire to patrol the outside of the campus.
In addition to all of the technology this space is building to keep its information safe, it is also building environmentally friendly features that many data centers today do not have.
Novva uses waterless cooling technology, which means fans circulate the cold air in to cool the hot computers as they work. Typically, data centers use water to cool centers, but it can be wasteful, and the water is hard to recycle.
With all the technology we use to protect our technology, data centers worldwide are expected to nearly triple in value in just the next seven years. In 2020, the global data center market was valued at $59B and within the next seven years, it is estimated that will grow to $143B.
“I don't see any way we're going to turn back. Unless people are willing to put down their phones, their computers, their applications, everything's being driven digitally. I don't see how we get away from data centers,” said Swenson.
But with fast growth, comes new responsibility.
“We are actually producing a lot of data that we are not aware of,” said Roch Guerin, a professor of computer science at Washington University at St. Louis.
Guerin said the amount of data we produce simply by using our phones could be a powerful way to invent even better technology.
“It can actually be leveraged in a way that we had no idea could actually be accomplished. The opportunities are there,” he said.
“I think the future is quite bright,” Swenson echoed.