As It Expands, Novva Data Centers Sees Design, Tech As Differentiators

Oct. 24, 2022
As Novva Data centers begins a national expansion, founder and CEO Wes Swenson sees design, next-generation tech and customer amenities as differentiators for his company.

WEST JORDAN, Utah – As you enter Novva Data Centers, you walk into a vast lobby with Italian marble flooring. The large glass windows let the sunshine in, while providing scenic views of the Oquirrh Mountains, with elevations above 10,000 feet, just five miles to the East.

Just off the lobby is a well-stocked cafe, customer lockers and a full gym with golf simulator and weights. There’s event space for clients, which opens onto a courtyard with fire pits and a water wall.

Walk up the front stairs, and you encounter a similarly luxe upper lobby, along with more marble, glass and mountain views, which leads to an upper observation area where customers can overlook the 100,000 square foot front data hall through a wall of “smart glass” that can switch from clear to smoky, and soon will feature mixed reality overlays to diagram the mechanical systems supporting customer workloads.

As you enter the data hall, you’re likely to encounter a robotic dog from Boston Dynamics, equipped with cameras, Lidar and facial recognition capabilities, which patrols the perimeter of the hall. It’s not the only security robot, as Novva also has an autonomous drone that conducts aerial surveillance flights over the campus.

‘The Power of Good Architecture’

Everywhere you look, you see attention to design and new technology that goes beyond many other data centers we’ve toured. These flourishes reflect the sensibilities of Novva founder and CEO Wes Swenson. But they are also intended to make an impact on the people who will work in this environment.

“It’s about differentiating the brand to clients,” said Swenson, “The industry is competitive, but it also can be stoic. I’m trying to win over the client with design and white glove service.

“I didn’t just set out to do it because it was different,” Swenson added. “I wanted really high-end finishes. Often the timeless part of the building is the design. We sometimes underestimate the power of good architecture. It’s not that much more expensive, but it takes a lot of thought. We really hope that transmits to our clients. I want clients to come to feel comfortable and entitled to enjoy the building.”

Wes Swenson, the founder and CEO of Novva Data Centers. (Photo: Rich Miller)

Novva’s focus on visual design is notable, but it’s not alone in seeking to elevate the appearance of modern data centers. Switch is known for its high-tech design aesthetic, and NTT Global Data Centers Americas has received awards for its architecture. CyrusOne, Vantage and Flexential are among the providers who have sought to create enhanced lobbies and office areas.

As data centers become a larger presence on the suburban landscape, residents are paying closer attention to the visual appeal of these buildings. Loudoun County in Northern Virginia will create design standards for data centers, which will likely address facades and landscaping. The days of non-descript data centers are coming to an end, as communities and developers each find reasons to retire the gray concrete box in favor of better architecture and amenities.

However, design is just one part of the story for Novva Data Centers.

Novva, CIM Plan National Network

Novva is among a group of new entrants in the fast-growing digital infrastructure arena that pair experienced executive leadership with a well-funded capital partner. Swenson built C7 Data Centers into Utah’s leading colocation player before selling the company to DataBank in 2017. Novva is backed by a growth equity investment from CIM Group, a real estate and infrastructure owner, operator, lender and developer.

In June 2022, CIM Group and Novva announced agreement on additional investment of up to $355 million in capital from CIM Group to support Novva’s plans to expand across the United States.

The 100-acre Salt Lake City campus is just the beginning.

  • Novva has acquired an existing facility in Colorado Springs. The 122,000 SF facility sites on 37 acres of land, providing ample room for expansion.
  • Last month Novva said it has begun construction on a 100-megawatt data center in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Novva says the facility is expected to open in late 2023. The 275,000 square foot, $400 million data center will be located on a 20-acre campus.

The company says its long-term goal is to deploy up to 1 gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) of data center capacity in strategic markets by 2027.

The exterior and front facade of the Novva Data Centers facility in West Jordan, Utah outside Salt Lake City. The Oquirrh Mountains can be seen in the background. (Photo: Rich Miller)

Novva says it focuses on a “wholocation” experience, combining wholesale and retail colocation to serve clients of a range of size and scalability needs — from those requiring 1 cabinet to 1,000+ cabinets. The company also offers build-to-suit options and employs renewable energy, high density capacity, and waterless cooling.

The cooling design employs a hot aisle containment system in which warm exhaust air moves beneath a 5-foot raised floor. That flips the airflow seen in many newer data center designs, where server exhaust is evacuated to an overhead plenum to be returned to the cooling equipment.

Inside the Salt Lake City Flagship Site

The West Jordan campus is the prototype for Swenson’s vision. The 100-acre property can house four data centers and about 1.5 million square feet. The first building features 200,000 square feet of data hall space, and employs a water-free chiller system that uses polypropylene pipes from Aquatherm that use ambient air to chill a closed loop cooling system. That system runs up to a temperature of 72 degrees, at which point Novva shifts to a combination of fans and compressors, reserving full compressors for days warmer than 85 degrees.

A robotic security dog from Boston Dynamics patrols a data hall at the Novva Data Centers facility in West Jordan, Utah. QR codes guide the robot as it scans the perimeter of the technical space. (Photo: Rich Miller)

That happens more often than it used to in Salt Lake City, which has experienced 34 days above 100 degrees this year. That’s still cooler than several competing data center markets, which include Phoenix (145 days above 100 in 2022) and Las Vegas (which averages 78 days a year in triple digits).

On the power side, Novva uses lithium-ion UPS units built by a Salt Lake City Company, with a power design that can supports different resiliency settings – N, N+1 or 2N. Novva houses its generators inside the building, using MTU generators sized at between 1.5 and 2.5 megawatts with SCR (selective catalytic reduction) units to manage emissions.

Swenson says having the gensets indoors instead of an equipment yard provides savings on weatherization and enclosures for outdoor units. The building has a three-foot thick internal wall to separate the generators from data halls.

Designing for Future Water Conservation

Despite the extra investment in design flourishes and next-generation tech, Swenson says Novva remains competitive on price because the company has focused on a low cost basis and total cost of ownership (TCO).

Novva has room for four data centers on its West Jordan property, which also includes a 120 MVA substation. As the campus grows, Swenson plans to add additional power options. That could include a solar array supporting between 15 MW and 25 MW of power, and Swenson says he is tracking the nascent market for hydrogen-based power generation.

Perhaps the most precious research in the Southwest is water. The Novva campus currently uses about 1 million gallons a year of water a year, which is mostly for toilets and landscaping, which is required by the city. Swenson hopes to eventually offset that impact by adding water collection units known as atmospheric water generators, which can be powered by solar energy and batteries.

“It pulls humidity out of the air and can do 6,000 to 8,000 gallons a day,” said Swenson, who said Novva hopes to store that water and use it for landscaping.

That would position it for a future in which Salt Lake City is expected to face water shortages as its population growth comes into conflict with an ongoing “megadrought” and likely restrictions on water usage.

It aligns with Novva’s focus on integrating new technologies to support customer operations.

“Why not build a campus with the future in mind,” said Swenson.

About the Author

Rich Miller

I write about the places where the Internet lives, telling the story of data centers and the people who build them. I founded Data Center Knowledge, the data center industry's leading news site. Now I'm exploring the future of cloud computing at Data Center Frontier.

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