Big data industry warms to Boise

A growing local industry could help the Treasure Valley attract other tech companies, proponents of the centers say

zkyle@idahostatesman.comJanuary 26, 2014 

  • ABOUT ZACH KYLE

    Zach joined the Statesman’s business desk in April after working for five years at the Post Register in Idaho Falls. His beats include banking, real estate and business policy, though lately he’s been wandering far afield. He grew up in the sticks outside of Bellingham, Wash., where he studied journalism at Western Washington University.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article listed the incorrect name for the founder of Fiberpipe Data Centers. Ken Birch founded the company.

Forget malls, downtowns and warehouses. The nervous systems of business are wired into the racks of blinking servers arranged like rows of corn in data centers across the world.

Many companies run their own centers to store and manage email, video, transaction records, patient/customer histories and the rest of the data that keep the digital world humming. But more are outsourcing to independent centers. Boise has two, on West Emerald Street and West Overland Road.

The owners of those centers plan to add more sophisticated data sites in the city, and a California company is planning one as well. The additions could make Boise a regional player in data management as businesses seek expert help managing information or storing backup copies of their data.

The centers also could bring dozens of high-paying jobs to town, and some business leaders say the economic effect could be greater if the centers help draw other technology business to the Treasure Valley.

Data centers, including Boise’s, provide space that customers can rent for equipment. The customers’ own employees can come and go as needed to maintain their systems, or the customers can pay the data centers to do the work.

Involta, an employee-owned company based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, operates a 6,000-square-foot center off Overland Road west of Maple Grove Road. It is planning to build a $10.5 million, 34,000-square-foot center near the intersection of West Victory and South Maple Grove roads. St. Luke’s Health System and WinCo Foods have signed on as anchor tenants. Involta says it could later add 20,000 square feet if needed.

Fiberpipe Data Centers, a Boise company founded by Ken Birch, plans to build a 30,000-square-foot building this fall on a site it hasn’t specified.

San Diego-based DataSite bought a 60,000-square-foot building on Bethel Court near West Franklin Road that was a Hewlett-Packard data center until HP consolidated its centers, said Jeff Burges, DataSite’s owner.

Involta eventually will employ 30 workers in Boise earning an average of $65,000 a year, said Reed Disney, Vice President and General Manager of data centers in Boise and Tucson, Ariz.

Data centers are rated on how many sources of electricity flow into the buildingfrom different loops on the grid to provide redundancy, as well as how many backup generators are on-site as a fail-safe. Each company says its new centers will meet the industry’s Tier 3 standards, which are higher than Involta’s current Tier 1 and Fiberpipe’s Tier 2 centers here.

DataSite says it also plans to meet Tier 4 standards, the highest.

DataSite said it serves 100 clients, including some Fortune 500 companies, at its data centers in Orlando, Fla., and Marietta, Ga. The company said it will hire up to 20 employees in Boise.

Burges said Boise’s combination of cheap electricity and low risk of natural disasters — no earthquakes or hurricanes here — could make the Treasure Valley appealing to businesses once larger, higher-tier data centers are up and running.

“You have to be open,” Burges said. “You have to be selling. You have to be staffed, and you have to be ready. Then they will fly in and have a look.”

LOCAL APPEAL

St. Luke’s chose the new Involta center in part because of its accessibility, said Dr. Marc Chasin, chief information officer for the health system. St. Luke’s has its own data centers in Boise and Twin Falls managing 2.2 petabytes of patient and operations data on 1,500 servers. That’s equal to2.2 million gigabytes, or enough memory to store abouta billion songs in MP3 format, Chasin said.

St. Luke’s will close its Boise center once it moves into the Involta building, which is scheduled to open by the end of this year. The six employees will be relocated. St. Luke’s employees will work on their system at Involta for about nine months, after which an employee will check the system every four or five days, Chasin said.

St. Luke’s won’t say how much it will pay Involta.

“We expect this will lead to cost savings and ... improve the efficiency and security of our data,” Chasin said.

Chasin said shifting data and IT to an independent center will free St. Luke’s to focus on health care. He said it’s a decision that more companies will weigh after the Target Corp. data breaches that exposed debit and credit card numbers and other information of up to 70 million people.

“We thought about it long and hard,” Chasin said. “St. Luke’s area of expertise is in treating patients. It isn’t in data center management. We felt that this expertise should be transferred to trained professionals in that area.”

BROAD APPEAL

Disney said Involta builds new data centers only after lining up anchor tenants. Many tenants, such as St. Luke’s, come from the health care industry, whose data needs have skyrocketed. Chasin said the volume of data in the St. Luke’s system might double again in two years.

DataSite is more comfortable speculating and will open its Boise operation around March regardless of its client list, Burges said.

“We believe enough in our business plan and the demand in the data center market in the Treasure Valley,” he said.

Fiberpipe issued a news release about its planned center but did not say when or where it would open and did not return calls seeking more information.

The Treasure Valley data centers could become a popular choice for businesses in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco looking for independent management or backup, said Jay Larsen, president of the Idaho Technology Council.

“We want infrastructure for the companies here, but we also want companies in Seattle to look to Boise for their redundancy,” Larsen said. “We want more of that.”

Attracting data centers has been a priority for the Idaho Department of Commerce because they make the state more appealing for other tech companies looking to relocate, department Director Jeff Sayer said.

Centers around the country often attract tech companies looking to move near a co-location site, Sayer said.

“That’s why it’s so exciting they are coming to Boise,” Sayer said. “There are so many tech companies in the Valley who feel like this is the next step for that ecosystem to flourish.”

Companies building new data centers or expanding operations likely will qualify for millions in state infrastructure and training grants, Sayer said, and could be helped by any economic development legislation passed during the current session.

Zach Kyle: 377-6464, Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle

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