Comparing Options in the Northern California Data Center Market

May 1, 2017
The Northern California data center market is one of the biggest in the world, including Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. James Leach, VP of Marketing at RagingWire Data Centers, explores options for saving money on power, people, and real estate.

In this week’s Voices of the IndustryJames Leach, Vice President of Marketing at RagingWire Data Centers, explores how to save money on power, people, and real estate when entering the Northern California data center market – the second-largest in the country.

The Northern California data enter market is one of the biggest in the world, including Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.

According to the most recent report from Data Center Frontier and datacenterHawk, the Silicon Valley area is home to nearly 2.6 million square feet of commissioned data center space, representing 343 megawatts of commissioned power. That makes Silicon Valley the second-largest market for data center space in the U.S., trailing only Northern Virginia.

James Leach, Vice President of Marketing at RagingWire Data Centers

The problem is that the costs for power, people, and real estate in Northern California are some of the highest in the United States. Plus, data center supply in Northern California can be constrained, and there is the overhanging risk of earthquakes.

What if you could have the benefits of having your data center in Northern California with a lower price point, reduced earthquake risk, and available supply?

According to our recent analysis you could save nearly $8 million over a 7-year term by having your data center in Sacramento instead of San Francisco. The savings are between about $1 million and $7 million when compared to Phoenix, Reno, and Las Vegas.

(We’ve published our analysis on our website so you can plug in your own numbers.)

Base Rent – land and construction costs in Silicon Valley are high.

We all know that the cost of land and construction in Silicon Valley are high. Data from the National Association of Realtors published in August 2016, showed that the median price for a home in the region around San Jose, California was over $1 million — a first for any metro area in the country.

The same factors that make your Silicon Valley home expensive are true for your Silicon Valley data center. Supply of land is scarce. The expertise to build and operate a data center in Silicon Valley make these human resources expensive as well.

Power – the Largest Factor in Data Center Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

For a large-footprint, hyperscale cloud or enterprise data center deployment, it’s not out of line to spend $2 on power for every $1 you spend on base rent.

The mistake in many data center TCO models is that the cost of power is viewed as a sunk cost not a variable cost – a value to be plugged in, not managed. The good news is that data center operators tend to negotiate better power rates than you could get yourself due to quantity discounts and operational efficiency. The even better news is that wholesale data center power pricing through the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is the lowest in the state of California. For example, data center power pricing in San Francisco is about 12 cents per kilowatt hour. In Sacramento it’s 6.9 cents. For a typical 1 megawatt deployment, the savings in power is about $648,000 per year for a total of nearly $5 million over seven years.

Planes, trains, and automobiles – which do you prefer?

How far do you want to be away from your data center, and how do you want to get there?  Sacramento is about 90 miles from the Bay Area. Reno is 220 miles, Las Vegas is 570 miles, and Phoenix is 750 miles. Would you rather drive or fly? Driving is probably more flexible. A flight might take less effort, once you get through getting to the airport, parking, checking in, security, boarding, etc. Airports can also be more susceptible to weather delays. In an earthquake emergency, the airports are often closed.

 Networks and the speed of light

We’re living in the most connected era in history, but even with all the fiber in the ground network performance is still bounded by the speed of light. Network latency can be a critical variable in the end-user application experience. No one wants to be looking at the hourglass. Roundtrip network latency to and from the Bay Area is 3 milliseconds (ms) in Sacramento, 4.2 ms in Reno, 15.3 ms in Las Vegas, and 18.1 in Phoenix.

A data hall in the RagingWire CA3 data center in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo: RagingWire)

Environmental risk – earthquakes and severe weather

The discussion around environmental risk and Silicon Valley or Bay Area data centers usually focuses on earthquakes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bay Area has the highest density of active faults per square mile of any urban center in the country. There is a 72% chance of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake (the same size as the 1994 Northridge earthquake which caused 57 deaths and property damage estimated at $13-40 billion) on one of the Bay Area’s many faults in the next 30 years. The percentage shoots up to 89% for a magnitude 6 or greater quake.

Once you get outside the Bay Area, the risk of earthquakes drops dramatically. Sacramento, for example, is on a separate tectonic plate from the Bay Area and is rated as a “very low risk” as is Las Vegas. However, not all data center locations outside the Bay Area have a low risk of earthquakes. For example, even though Reno is 218 miles away from the Bay Area, it has a similar risk of earthquake as the Bay Area.

Regarding severe weather, the desert locations need to deal with extreme temperatures and drought conditions. Las Vegas averaged 75 days over 100 degrees from 1981-2015. Phoenix averaged 110 days over 100 degrees for the same period. Sacramento averages 11 days over 100 degrees, with half of those days in July.

Sacramento can experience heavy “El Nino” rains and excessive snow melt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains causing the rivers to overflow. Fortunately, Sacramento has spent billions of dollars over the last 20 years on a sophisticated system of levees and spillways, and has another $2.4 billion of flood-control projects in development. Record snowfalls of 471 inches from January-March, 2017 in Lake Tahoe were a good test for the flood control measures and the Sacramento data centers were all safe.

What next?

Demand for data centers is booming particularly from hyperscale cloud companies and Fortune 1000 enterprises. The economics of moving from a capital expense model to an operational expense model that allows for scaling your business and the performance improvements from superior data center design and operations are too compelling to pass up.

For Bay Area and Silicon Valley companies or any company desiring a data center presence in Northern California, the TCO benefits of Sacramento are making it an attractive choice.

James Leach is Vice President of Marketing at RagingWire Data Centers. At RagingWire, Leach is the overall marketing leader responsible for a data center portfolio of 1.5 million square feet and 113 MW in the United States and a global data center platform of 140 facilities in 17 countries as part of the Nexcenter brand of NTT Communications.

About the Author

Voices of the Industry

Our Voice of the Industry feature showcases guest articles on thought leadership from sponsors of Data Center Frontier. For more information, see our Voices of the Industry description and guidelines.

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