The Godfather of Data Center Alley

The man behind the making of the #1 data center market on the planet.

Loudoun County has been the wealthiest county in America since 2008. In addition to the picturesque vineyards, and sprawling suburbia, Loudoun has made its name worldwide in the technology sector by becoming the #1 data center market globally, and the data center boom continues across the county.  InterGlobix Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Jasmine Bedi, had an exclusive interview with Buddy Rizer, the man behind making Loudoun County the #1 data center market in the world.

In your tenure as Executive Director of Loudoun County Economic Development, what has been your biggest accomplishment so far?

In May 2007, I was brought to Loudoun County with a clear mission: grow the commercial tax base. At that time, about 19 percent of the revenue to the county came from commercial taxes. I’m very proud to say that today, the percentage of revenue from commercial taxes is almost double that amount – it’s now more than 30 percent. Our economy is also less dependent on fluctuations in spending by the Federal Government with the increased levels of private investment.

With almost 100 data centers and over 1000 MW (or a Giga Watt) of data center capacity provisioned, how do you manage the next phase of growth in this sector for Loudoun County?

In my view, the data center industry as a whole is in its second or third inning. I would say we in Loudoun County are probably in the fifth inning. We have reached the point where land is going for more than $1.5 million an acre in Ashburn’s prime Data Center Alley. We are currently looking for the right places to put data centers in other parts of the county, but we want to do that very strategically. As we are looking to the future, we’re figuring out where we could put more data centers because the demand is certainly there. One of our other strategies is to encourage data centers to go taller. Most Loudoun data centers have been one-story buildings; that’s now becoming two, three and four stories. That’s going to make a big difference in how we use our land. We’re trying to create policies and non-financial incentives to encourage additional building height because it’s a major tax benefit to the county.

What made 70% of the world’s Internet traffic pass through Ashburn? And did connectivity play an integral role in making Ashburn the #1 data center market in the world? How did it all start?

When I came to Loudoun 12 years ago, it already had one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S. In order to keep up with that growth, as well as to provide schools, roads and other public services, our elected officials recognized the need to build our business base. 

As we crafted our economic development strategy, we began to focus on a unique asset of our community: the technology infrastructure that existed, in large part, thanks to the 1997 arrival of America Online, the company that grew into a global Internet giant. With the fast growth of AOL, UUnet/WorldCom and others, Loudoun became a connectivity hub with massive amounts of available fiber. And when the MAE East facility moved to Loudoun County, we became a crosspoint for approximately 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic.

In addition to the fiber network, Ashburn had available land, water access and an abundance of reliable power. Virginia had dedicated significant resources to the transmission grid, and our power provider, Dominion Electric, is world-class at protecting the transmission grid. With that base to build on, Loudoun Economic Development set out to build an environment where data centers could thrive.

I started attending data center conferences, and I earned a data center certification that helped me understand what was important to the industry. We worked with the state legislature to craft best-in-class incentives. We created a fast-track process that paved the way for record timelines for entitlement and construction. Through years of this kind of strategic hard work, we built what is now known as “Data Center Alley,” the largest and fastest-growing data center market in the world.

In his terrific book “Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet,” Andrew Blum wrote: “Ashburn, Virginia is a small town that Internet people think of as a giant city.

They toss around ‘Ashburn’ as if it were London or Tokyo, and often in the same sentence.” He said that “the Internet works because every network is connected, somehow, to every other. Where do those connections physically happen? More than anywhere else in America, the answer is ‘Ashburn.’ This is the bullseye of America’s Internet.” I’m very proud to have played a part of growing the backbone of the Internet here in Loudoun County, Virginia.

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