Inside the SuperNAP and its high-tech clouds

Buried amid a collection of warehouses and manufacturing facilities in southeast Las Vegas is the SuperNAP, Switch Communications’ massive data center. You might have heard of it before because of its military-grade security, its huge footprint, and roots as Enron’s attempt to build a bandwidth exchange. But the cutting-edge facility is also home to some very interesting customers.

On the cloud front, Switch is luring customers via a program it calls the U.S. Inter-Cloud Exchange. In the six years since launching the SuperNAP, Switch has attracted public cloud providers including Joyent and CloudSigma, as well as several private clouds and vertical clouds serving specific industries, including banking. Among the dozens of other names populating the Cloud Exchange list are Cisco, EMC, Dell and Nirvanix.

During a recent tour of the facility, Switch VP of Cloud Jason Mendenhall explained the program as analogous to city-planning, in that it takes some real thought to attract the companies you want. Just as cities rely on mass transit, well-designed roads and good schools, data centers rely on network connectivity, energy efficiency, and reliability. SuperNAP has those things in spades.

Running through the list would take forever, so here are some highlights:

  • 407,000 square feet, with plans to expand to more than 2 million square feet
  • Direct connections to more than 25 network providers, complete with special bandwidth-buying programs
  • Intelligent cooling system that adjusts to temperatures of individual racks
  • Patented HVAC system combining four climate-control methods, located entirely outdoors
  • PUE of 1.24
  • 100MW capacity (matched in generator capacity), with 500MW capacity upon expansion
  • Custom-built UPS system
  • A conference room that looks like a Battlestar Galactica-inspired medieval castle, which already has hosted technology policy meetings for the Brookings Institute and a who’s who of cloud influencers

The goal of all this innovation — and sheer size — Mendenhall explained, is to let cloud providers and other customers know that whatever they need — space, power, resiliency, connectivity, etc. — they can get in the SuperNAP. One big selling point of the Inter-Cloud Exchange is that cloud providers can connect to each other or to customers’ private cloud housed at the facility, or can easily establish point-to-point connections to remote data centers.

Customers are sold

I toured the data center as part of CloudSigma’s launch of its Infrastructure as a Service cloud in the United States. CloudSigma, a Swiss cloud provider that tries to provide an IaaS experience similar to colocation in terms of user control and flexibility, began its search for a U.S. location in the spring. CTO Robert Jenkins told me that after touring a number of data centers in the United States, it was a no-brainer to choose the SuperNAP as its provider.

Presently, CloudSigma runs 20 racks full of gear in the SuperNAP (all interconnected via 10 GbE, by the way), but it has potential customers lined up that could fill that capacity in a hurry. The company also is considering adding specialized infrastructure for big clients or for specific workloads. And although its racks are pretty dense at 22 kW apiece, SuperNAP can support racks that consume 40 kW apiece.

It’s good to know, Jenkins said, that CloudSigma will have no problems adding capacity and increasing computing density as its business grows and server technologies advance. All of this plays into CloudSigma’s business strategy, which is to compete in a crowded IaaS  market not through scale (it can’t touch Amazon Web Services (s amzn) or Rackspace (s rax) in that regard), but through high utilization, specialization and clever pricing.

Joyent also hosts one of its eight U.S. locations for Joyent Cloud service at the SuperNAP. CTO and Chief Scientist Jason Hoffman told me that everything Switch says about the facility’s unique design is correct.

“There actually is not anything of comparison in the world … not even remotely close [in terms of a general-purpose data center],” he said. “They’re the only people who actually sat down in the last 20 years and thought what should a data center look like today, not in 1985.”

Hoffman also touted the SuperNAP’s connectivity, which he called the most-diverse Internet point of presence in the country. It has direct connectivity to the One Wilshire data center in Los Angeles, Hoffman explained, a very important carrier hotel that provides the primary physical link between the United States and Asia.

Knowing you’re in good company also helps draw customers to the SuperNAP, and Mendenhall pointed out some interesting deployments that already show the level of cutting-edge computing going on there. I saw a large retailer’s 36-petabyte data warehouse and Hadoop cluster, as well as a 432-blade Cisco (s csco) UCS deployment for a large banking entity. eBay (s ebay) has hundreds of racks running big data workloads there, and EMC Greenplum’s (s emc) new 1,000-node Hadoop testbed will be housed at the SuperNAP shortly.