When Carver County set out to build a fiber optic network three years ago, the ultimate goal was connecting to the so-called 511 building in Minneapolis, considered the most wired building in Minnesota and a major source of fiber optic data transmission and reception.
"They call the 511 building a 'hotel' or hub," said Steve Taylor, Carver County's director of administrative services. "It's a nerve center for all the major Internet providers. ... Connecting to it would allow us to get better Internet access and rates."
But the very fact that the 511 building is so popular also creates a concern: What would happen if something happened to shut down the building or the fiber lines connecting it to Chicago?
"You never want to have a single point of failure," Taylor said Wednesday, five months before Carver breaks ground on its $7.5 million fiber ring. "You can't rely on one line. I'm all for another 511 building for redundancy. I wouldn't mind five or six of them, in fact."
The city of Eagan shares that assessment, and it is willing to spend $2 million or more to back up its belief that the Twin Cities needs more "carrier hotel" facilities like the 511 building, which is also considered a high-security data center or "co-location" site -- a warehouse-sized structure that allows companies to move or store large volumes of information off-site.
"Data center space in the Twin Cities? There is not enough," said Andrew Cohill of Design Nine, a Virginia company hired to do consulting on broadband for Eagan.
According to a draft report to the Eagan City Council from a task force looking into bringing a data center to Eagan, the Twin Cities market is vastly under-served by high-level, carrier-neutral data centers to provide storage backup and house multiple Internet and communication firms.
The City Council is expected to give its blessing to explore the idea next week.
City officials believe that if they can provide the incentives to get things started, then a private company might be enticed to come into Eagan to build such a high-end facility.
"We're trying to provide the incentives and all the things to make it happen," said Tom Garrison, Eagan's communications director. "We have a range of things we could do."
A number of data and Internet experts believe the city might be onto something, especially in its conclusion that there is not enough data storage space in the Twin Cities.
"We have noticed that same gap for a few years now," said Manny Quevedo, vice president of corporate development for CoSentry in Omaha, a firm that operates four high-end data centers in Nebraska. "There's enough demand in the region, significant demand, for modern data centers."
Quevedo said his company is planning to look into the Minnesota market in 2011, which would indicate Eagan might be able to attract the kind of private development it wants to build the data center.
"We see this as an excellent opportunity to offer an alternative," said Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire. "It's not that there is an issue with the 511 building as much as there is a need for more alternatives and a more secure infrastructure."
Demand is soaring
A market analysis of the business by the city indicates the Twin Cities has too few data centers. An indication of the pent-up demand, said city officials, is that several companies have contacted the city to say that if a data center is built in Eagan, then the firms would seriously consider moving into it.
The center also could make Internet and broadband access easier and more affordable for companies that locate nearby.
Cohill, the consultant, said another factor working for the city is that the increasing use of bandwidth, especially by companies such as Netflix, is leading to a demand for more and more data centers.
"As people use more video in all of its forms, it has become increasingly more important to move your data closer to your customers," Cohill said.
Several data center experts around the Midwest said recently that there should be about four or five such high-security, carrier-neutral centers in the Twin Cities area.
Although the concerns were greater five years ago, the fact that there is only one such facility locally has been a concern among public and private entities who worry about the economic and social disruptions that would occur if something were to happen to the 511 building.
City Administrator Tom Hedges and other Eagan officials said complementing the 511 building, by providing a redundant service and providing a southern route for data transmission will be among the prime selling points of Eagan's plans for a data center.
"This would make the area that much more attractive and provide what the area really needs, a southern [data] route and an alternative to the 511 building," Maguire said.
Heron Marquez • 952-707-9994