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Why Ashburn, Virginia is for [Data] Lovers

Nearly 50 years ago, the Virginia State Travel Service hit it big with its famous “Virginia is for Lovers” slogan. Ashburn, located in Loudoun County, Virginia, caters to a specific form of lover: tech professionals who love Ashburn’s access to what has been called “the bullseye of America’s Internet.”

From America’s Breadbasket to America’s Data Capital

Founded in 1757, Loudoun County was known as the “Breadbasket of the Revolution” during the American Revolution due to how much grain is supplied to George Washington’s Continental Army. Loudoun County’s proximity to the US Capitol has thrust it into national prominence more than once; for example, it hosted important government documents and archives in exile during the War of 1812, and more recently, Washington Dulles International Airport was built there in 1962.

This part of Northern Virginia (NOVA) was perfect for the first expansion of Internet and fiber investments during the early 1990s. The land – still almost all rural back then – was reasonably priced and close to the nation’s capital, making it a prime location for the development of what is now called the Dulles Technology Corridor, sometimes referred to as the “Silicon Valley of the East.” In addition to that, its electricity rate of 20% below the national average made it the perfect place to develop technology and hosting infrastructure. AOL made its home there, followed by Verizon, Telos, Orbital Sciences, and Paxfire. Then came the mega-giants, Amazon and Google, and Facebook; the companies that have turned data from a science into an art.

Loudoun County 2018

Now called “Data Center Alley,” Loudoun County is the subject of one of the Internet’s most extreme statistics. According to Loudoun’s Department of Economic Development, as much as 70% of all Internet traffic in the world is routed through the county on a daily basis. That sort of number is difficult to quantify. Right now, there are almost 5 billion Internet users in the world, about 52% of the world’s population. There’s no way to really tell how much worldwide Internet traffic there is in a single second, let alone an entire day. Cisco places the number at around 700 terabytes per second (Tbps). Considering there are 86,400 seconds in a day, and the sheer amount of data flowing daily through Loudon County is truly mind-boggling.

Cloud Computing’s Role

According to Data Center Frontier, NOVA is host to four of the top 10 cloud campuses in the US. These are data centers featuring raised-floor environments. No other market in the world has more than one of the Top 10. NOVA is perfect for cloud computing because its local economy is already stable from previous development projects, making major utility price hikes unlikely in the near future. Large sources of cheap power are available, and local construction companies have been tackling data center projects for nearly thirty years, making them as close to experts in the field as you’re going to find.

The four powerhouse campuses in NOVA include:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS): The first American firm to offer its “data as a service” functionality to everyday businesses, AWS has more than 25 data centers in the NOVA region and an investment of more than $1.5 billion.
  • Dupont Fabros (Ashburn): Begun in 2007, this sprawling campus now encompasses more than 1.6 million square feet and an investment of $1.2 billion in technical infrastructure. An additional 28 MW of development came on in 2017.
  • Digital Realty (DRT): Its client base includes Amazon and LinkedIn, and like Dupont its touching 1.6 million square feet. Already in for $1 billion, it has enough room for 2 million square feet more of turnkey data centers.
  • Equinix (Ashburn campus): The old guard of the area, it hit 20 years old in 2018 and encompasses 10 buildings total.

Looking Ahead

According to Buddy Rizer, the Executive Director for Economic Development in Loudoun County, there has not been a single day without construction on a new data facility since 2008. Loudon County continues to benefit marvelously from its position, raking in $110 million in annual tax revenue thanks to its large-scale business partners. With scalability a snap and plenty of land still available, the future continues to look bright for NOVA when it comes to its reign as the data capital of the world.

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