Inside the Big Five: It’s All About Interconnection in Downtown Toronto

Phil Schwarzmann

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Building a new Equinix data center takes much more than concrete and blue steel. It’s a complex process that starts long before any ribbons get cut, and it has the same goal everywhere – expanding the reliability, security and high-performance interconnection needed for business growth and opportunity.

We’ve increased interconnection in a big way in 2015 by opening five new data centers (the Big Five) worldwide, including in the fourth-largest city in North America, Toronto. To mark the opening of TR2, we’re talking to Equinix executives and personnel about different stages of building a data center. Our first conversation was with Howard Horowitz, Equinix’s senior vice president of global real estate. There was a lot of good stuff, so we’ve broken the conversation into two posts. Here’s the first:

howard-horowitzCan you tell us first why expansion in Toronto was such a priority?

Toronto was one of the 16 new markets we got in the Switch and Data acquisition (in 2010) and was a key market we knew we wanted to expand. It’s a huge financial hub, and one of our core ecosystems is financials. When we start thinking about expanding this ecosystem in the Americas, Chicago and New York are most important, but number three is Toronto. And the fact that Canada may offer some protection from U.S. regulators is attractive to customers who have data sovereignty concerns. Plus, our TR1 facility is the hub of interconnection in downtown Toronto, and we look to prioritize expansion in key markets globally.

What are some major considerations when you are choosing a site?

It depends on the market. If we’ve already established a data center in a metro location, we want to be close to it, because we’re all about interconnection. That does force us to look in geographical areas that may not be the easiest to develop in, including major metropolitan areas, where we often end up in a central business district due to fiber density. That can be more difficult logistically and more expensive to acquire and develop. Toronto was a very difficult real estate market for us. The condo market in downtown Toronto has been incredibly hot and is considered the highest and best use for many of the locations we surveyed near TR1. Add our typical need for lots of power and it proved to be one of our most difficult markets in which to identify a location ̶ and ultimately led us to a build-to-suit development.

So interconnection trumps making the build a little easier?

Interconnection is always a major priority, but we don’t always have to make a choice between that and cost or constructability. Ideally, you would build 200,000 plus square feet on one or two floors in a greenfield site, where you can house your infrastructure – things like chillers, generators – outside so it doesn’t take up colocation space. But in Toronto, it wasn’t possible. It was too important to be downtown. The further away you go, the more latency you introduce for financial, cloud and enterprisecustomers -this is where they want they want and need to be located.

It obviously ended up working out in Toronto.

An opportunity arose with a Canadian general contractor and landowner at a former car dealership. We worked with our contractor, Urbacon, on their building design and tweaked it to our specifications. Now we have a five-story facility a little over a mile from TR1. It’s going to be the largest single-operator data center in downtown, and we know it’s going to be very well received.

Read part two of the interview.