An invitation to see the massive new data center on Fort Wayne’s south side generated a lot of interest among members of the Networking and Information Technology Association of Fort Wayne when the offer was extended late last month.

Lights scattered throughout the cavernous interior of the repurposed former Target store at 7601 S. Anthony Blvd. gave them an idea of the amount of space available in the 110,000-square-foot building for their private cloud or co-location needs.

Five years ago, after Indianapolis-based Lifeline Data Centers bought the property near Southtown Centre, Alex Carroll, a co-owner of the company with Rich Banta, estimated the $15 million project would take six to seven years to complete in stages.

They said during the data center’s Sept. 6 open house that they planned to have it operating early next year.

“I’ve seen several data centers over the years. This one by far is going to be top class,” Lynn Knapp, NITA Fort Wayne president, said at the event. “I think it says a lot for the city and the direction it’s going that they want to come here and do this.

“I’m glad to see something like this come to Fort Wayne. It does say that the owners who have data centers in Indianapolis look at Fort Wayne as a city on the rise, and they want to get in ahead before it shoots off, and you get other people who say, ‘I want to come in and do a data center.’”

Even before the Indiana General Assembly put a data center gross retail and use tax exemption in place this year for investments in them of less than $750 million, the state had a lot going for it as a location for the facilities, said Douglas Karr, Lifeline’s marketing director.

Facilities in the state don’t have to worry about forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes or 120-degree weather, and Indiana has low power costs as well as fiber backbone redundancy, he said.

And, while the local project may benefit from the new incentives to locate data centers in the state, Karr said it did not influence Lifeline’s decision.

“They’re Hoosiers, so they were going to build here anyway,” he said. “We’re hoping, though, that that attracts outside companies to come in and do more. I mean, the more the merrier.”

Many customers like to co-locate their equipment in multiple locations, so increasing the number of data centers in Indiana makes the state more attractive for those kinds of services overall, Karr said.

Lifeline’s Fort Wayne facility will benefit from the fact that many companies like to stay away from the larger population centers when selecting locations to secure their data, he said.

Defenses there abound. Walls of the former store have been reinforced to withstand .50-caliber machine gun or sniper rifle fire, and a perimeter several feet from them is protected with concrete barriers tested to withstand the impact of a 5-ton vehicle.

An electro-magnetic pulse shield would keep data in the facility safe in the event of an EMP attack or a massive solar flare.

The structure also was designed to withstand severe weather and to provide redundant cooling, power, network links and storage substystems, as well as security.

“They literally won a patent on their data distribution because it’s redundant and scalable, so they have multiple power feeds from the utility companies followed by generator backups followed by battery backups. And then, down in Indianapolis, they actually have a 4-megawatt solar array at their data center as well to offset those power costs,” Karr said.

There are two sections to the local facility, with about 26,000 square feet for diesel generators and other backup power and 84,000 square feet on its south side for the racks and servers it will house, he said. Carroll has estimated the space is large enough to house equipment for 100 to 125 customers.

Part of the purpose of offering the level of protection that will come with the facility is to meet the most demanding international quality standards in place so customers using it will be able to pass audits required for related certifications.

Lifeline has gone through its own ISO 27001 certification process successfully, and “I don’t believe you’ll find a more literally certified group of individuals,” Karr said.

Services related to helping customers with federal regulatory compliance and industry quality standard compliance have become some of the biggest business growth drivers for data centers “and that’s where these guys have really excelled,” he said.

“Rich travels out to Washington D.C. and actually helps them with the regulations. And so he’s been consulting LinkedIn and Google and everything else because of his data center certifications,” Karr said.

“It’s just good to have someone like that in your pocket,” he said. “You’re not going to get that when you go to Amazon or to (Microsoft’s) Azure, which are awesome cloud companies, but if you’re sweating, you can call up Rich Banta at 2 a.m. and get through.”

Excellent highway access will make it easy to get equipment and people in and out of the data center, Karr said, and Fort Wayne has a great cost of living and energy costs, and is a good technology community with businesses that will be interested in co-locating servers where employees can walk down the street to access them.

Based on the size of the workforce at its other facilities, Lifeline could employ between 10 and 20 in Fort Wayne, Karr said. And, local customers using the data center could hire additional workers to handle what they do there.
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