Game Changers: World's Largest Data Center Thrives in Desert - 8 News NOW

Game Changers: World's Largest Data Center Thrives in Desert

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Photo courtesy: Switch Photo courtesy: Switch
Photo courtesy: Switch Photo courtesy: Switch

LAS VEGAS -- Switch and its one-of-a-kind data center has already become a magnet for other high-tech businesses, including some of the biggest names in the online world.

If you've ever watched music videos via YouTube, outbid the world for a rare doohicky on eBay, shopped for stilettos from Zappos, googled,  tweeted, or killed a bunch of aliens online, then you've already been inside Switch -- digitally inside-- the data center.

It is a massive but outwardly unremarkable complex housing the most sophisticated data center in the world and it has already attracted the most coveted clientele in the known universe.

"eBay, Google, Sony, Zappos, HP, Cisco, Activision, Intuit, University of Phoenix," said Missy Young, EVP Colocation, Switch.

"Yahoo, MySpace, eHarmony, Sony or Disney, or any of those guys who have games on the Internet," added Rob Roy, Switch's founder.

The biggest names in business have beaten a path to Rob Roy's door because he created something no one else can duplicate, and he did it in southern Nevada. The now-defunct Enron Corporation spent billions to create the shell of a massive data complex. When Enron folded, Roy saw the potential and scooped it up at a bargain price. He's tweaked it since with more than 130 patented inventions.

Data security was an early selling point, not only the physical security implied by fences and sensors and a small army of ex-marines, but security from natural disasters. It turns out Las Vegas is a special place.

"Out of 19 natural disasters that are rated from a technology standpoint, we're the only city in America that has zero." Roy said. No tornadoes, few earthquakes,  and zero tsunamis.

Dave Courvoisier's 2009 interview with Rob Roy is the first -- and we think -- only on-camera interview the media shy brainiac has ever given.

At the time, Switch was just emerging from the shadows, a necessity given that many of its earliest customers were three-letter government agencies who prefer secrecy. But the secret is now out, and Switch has become sort of a one-stop recruitment center for Nevada.

"Clients that are coming to Switch in order to locate their high-density equipment are always looking around Las Vegas to see what is the client. That is why Fox moved 60 of their engineers to Las Vegas to run this deployment," Young said.

Each data center is called a super nap. Switch can't build them fast enough to meet demand, which has already created thousands of technical jobs and thousands more in construction. The company says Zappos is here, at least in part, because of Switch. Ditto for several other newcomers.

"Some of the brightest technology minds are coming together in this environment, in this room, to talk about how to prepare and present technology to the world as it continues to evolve," said Chris Donnelly, Switch.

As for the possibility of Las Vegas becoming a data center city, instead of a gambling city, Young says it's already happened.

"As far as technology goes, we are already there. We are the best in the world in our field and everyone in the data center community recognizes that," she said.

The company is cagey about future plans but admits one are of interest is the former Nevada Test Site, honeycombed by underground facilities such as Yucca mountain which could be transformed into data vaults that even more secure. There is one thing, though, that throws a wet blanket on the bubbly enthusiasm of the tech sector.

"We think the biggest challenge in selling Las Vegas to these clients is the school system," Young said.

The issue of educational inadequacy has come up again and again as the I-Team talked to cutting-edge business leaders abut potential game changers. Some companies, including Switch, are forming partnerships with the school district to help train the techies of tomorrow. However, much a much broader kind of change will be needed to prepare Nevada to compete for jobs in the future.

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