Lockport's Verizon data center continues to grow

Sep 19, 2019

One of the greenest data centers on Earth is located about 25 miles north of downtown Buffalo in Niagara County. As WBFO's Chris Caya reports, it's undergoing another expansion and creating more jobs.

The data center that Yahoo! opened just off Route 93 in the Town of Lockport nearly ten years ago is now owned by Verizon Media. Vice President of Data Operations Paul Bonaro says the new $28 million building under construction is the fifth major expansion on the campus in the past nine years. 

The $28 million expansion is expected to be complete around the end of the year.
Credit Chris Caya WBFO News

"It continues to be one of the most energy efficient data centers in the world. It's one of the biggest for Verizon."

Just how big? Jeff Davis, Principal Program Manager of Data Center Development, says the facility has more than 12,000 computer servers.

"The metric we use to measure data center capacity is megawatts, so millions of watts. This building is 7.2 million watts. Our facility next door is 10.8 million watts. And all that's backed up by diesel generation. We use a 2 megawatt diesel generator the same size generator that we use in locomotives," Davis said. "We could back feed the better part of Lockport with the amount of power that we're generating here."   

Davis says the center handles about 60 percent of Verizon Media's North American traffic, including Yahoo! TechCrunch, Huffington Post and more. Since its opening, the workforce has nearly doubled. Bonaro says about 240 people are now employed on the campus in a variety of roles.
    
"We've got people that directly support the data center and the computers in the data centers. We've also got a network operations center. We've got a large customer care group and we've got all our teams that have kind of grown up within our tech community at the company," Bonaro said. "We've had great success with the local talent. It's a 24/7 operation so there's always people here, in and out."

The data center's location is a big reason for its success. All of its low-cost hydro-electric power is direct from the Niagara Power project. And the climate, about 12 miles south of Lake Ontario, is relatively cool in warmer months. Another key is the patented design of six buildings on the campus. They're shaped like a chicken coop to allow natural convection for cooling all the electronics.

Several of the data center's buildings can be seen from Rt. 93
Credit Chris Caya WBFO News

On a walking tour, Davis leads a group down what's called the hot aisle along the backside of a long row of servers stacked seven-feet high.  
    
"It can get up to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit here in the summertime."  

High above the hot aisle, daylight streams through large louvers along the length of the ceiling.     
    
"So all this hot air is just going to exhaust up. No mechanical cooling allows to operate real efficiently. All the energy in this space right now is just getting used for computer processing really. We have some lights and some fans. But traditional data centers you'll have mechanical cooling that's requiring to cool all of this and we just don't have that. So it's a huge advantage to our location and the type of technology we deploy," Davis said.      

In the winter, he says, the hot air is recirculated to warm the buildings. Bonaro says the initial investment, a decade ago, was part of a project to find more cost effective and energy efficient ways to house the computers that ran Yahoo's websites.
    
"It was really initially a test location for this kind of technology for cooling the computers to see if it would actually work. It had been tested in a laboratory environment but never really in a large scale production environment anywhere in the world. So Lockport was the first for that. We speak all over the world at conferences about that. And part of the reason it continues to see more investment is that it not only met those original expectations and hopes but it exceeded them from an operational standpoint in the computer spaces."

Once the expansion project is complete late this year, Bonaro says, the data center will be creating ten more new jobs.