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CyrusOne stakes its claim in Silicon Prairie


CyrusOne’s newest, fastest and most secure data center will open in America’s epicenter of data center and telecommunications investment, but it’s not Silicon Valley. It’s in the “Silicon Prairie,” thanks to the Civil War, politics and the transcontinental railroad.

The first phase of our 60,000-square-foot data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, will open in fall 2020 and offer Hybrid Cloud solutions for customers’ data needs. By 2021, it will be fully open and offer 24 MW of power.

Council Bluffs will join CyrusOne’s nearly 50 data centers and will provide customers with unparalleled access to high bandwidth with close proximity to some of the world’s largest cloud companies empowering enterprise customers in their Hybrid Cloud journey with low-latency cloud connectivity.

CyrusOne joins the likes of Apple, AT&T, Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon, Yahoo and other giants that have invested billions into establishing data centers and running fiber-optic cables along the United States’ 41st parallel. There have to be good reasons for that amount of investment targeted seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The first is logistical.

“It’s the classic real estate maxim: ‘location, location, location’,” said John McCloskey, CyrusOne vice president of hyperscale and cloud. “The 41st parallel has the fastest east-west, highest throughput fiber-optic connection in the United States. It’s not only the ability to handle high volumes of data on that cable, but there’s the fiber optics that bring the speed and security. And, it’s the proximity to public cloud and cloud platform providers who’ve also chosen Silicon Prairie.”

The massive amount of fiber-optic cables clustered conveniently along the 41st parallel is the historical part of the story. As U.S. Congress battled politically before leading the nation into the Civil War, congressmen unknowingly set the location for billions of dollars of investments into data centers.

As Microsoft’s Azure Global Engineering Chief Technology officer George Moore recounts, the first transcontinental railroad hugs the 41st parallel from Council Bluffs to  Sacramento, Calif. In 1853, planners debated routes on other parallels. U.S. Secretary of War and future Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis pushed for the railway to link New Orleans to San Diego. But in the cauldron of tension that was the U.S. Congress in the 1850s, no Northern congressmen would vote to place the railway in the slave-holding South. Likewise, no Southern congressman would vote to lay those tracks in the North.

When the South ultimately seceded in 1861, Congress voted to build the railway on the 41st parallel starting in Council Bluffs. The small Iowa town was an optimal site because the Platte River valley offered a relatively easier 600-mile trek to the Rocky Mountains and offered plenty of water for locomotive boilers. That same geographic serendipity today attracts data centers – they use the ample water supply to cool their spaces, which heat up quickly from the enormous number of servers running.

But they wouldn’t choose the 41st parallel without the desirable fiber-optic infrastructure, which is also in place thanks to the railroad. Telecommunications companies placed their lines along the 200-foot right-of-way along the railroad because it represents the shortest distance between points and the easiest negotiations. With the Pacific Railway Act of 1862, the federal government gave land rights to the Union Pacific Railroad. That means telecommunications companies need only deal with the railroad company to request and acquire access along the route. Otherwise, telecommunications firms would have to negotiate separately with thousands of private landowners stretching from the Great Plains into California.

In sum, just as American towns cropped up as service points and outposts along railways in the 19th century, telecoms, data center builders and Internet Age goliaths flock to the rail to build their infrastructure in the 21st century.

This includes CyrusOne.

Council Bluffs’ proximity to some huge existing public cloud provider sites gives us an even faster, more secure connection than our already industry-leading connection,” McCloskey said. “Locating within a three-kilometer distance to one specific site – it’s almost unheard of in the industry to have that close and dedicated fiber connection, which reduces the complexity of connections. While that direct, low-latency, highly secure network is one portion of it, it’s also doing it in a simplified almost way for customers who still manage their on-premise and also want to connect to a public cloud provider.”