On the outskirts of the quiet town of Culpeper, Virginia, a $250 million compound nears completion. From afar, it looks like many technology campuses – but get closer, and it looks less like Redmond and more like Riker's Island. “There's no fancy glass welcome sign here... the first thing you see when you arrive is a massive concrete wall,” says the facility's managing director, Norm Laudermilch. His company, Terremark [NASDAQ:TMRK], is in the process of building the most “secure and survivable” data storage facility on earth, right here in Culpeper. Why here? “It's commutable to DC, but outside that city's blast radius.” Blast radius? What on earth are they storing here, anyway?

Since one of Terremark's largest customers is the Federal Government, what's stored here is a state secret. But the facility's managing director, Norm Laudermilch will admit that this “Fort Knox of data centers,” is housing the most important digital records that Uncle Sam owns -- criminal records, tax files, surveillance, backups -- it's all here, or at least, could be. “We're fully authorized to process top-secret data,” he asserts, “and we set out to build this facility because federal customers were asking for it.”

The “Fort Knox” analogy is not an exaggeration. Several onion-like layers of security and surveillance surround the perimeter of the area: on the outermost layer, there is 1-inch by 1-inch climb-proof chainlink fence, complete with cameras and motion detectors. The next layer of security is a 12-foot earth berm, the angle of which was calculated using fluid dynamics; in the event that an explosive device like a car bomb detonates abutting the berm, the force of the explosion should be deflected up and over the facility, not into it. Atop the berms are 10-inch thick concrete walls that stand 8-feet tall. The message is clear: this is the most secure data storage facility on earth.

While much of the impetus for building the five, 50,000 square-foot data centers on this campus was to house the government's secret stash, Terremark's commercial customers – who include BMW North America, Facebook, YouTube and H&R Block, among others – have shown just as much interest in the facility as the Federal Government. That's because it's seemingly impregnable and promises 100% uptime.

To date, there hasn't been a major attack on any data center in the U.S., but smaller security breaches at other facilities have led both federal and commercial customers to demand the utmost from new facilities like Terremark's. In October 2007, two thieves cut into the reinforced walls of a data center in Chicago, tasered and struck a night watchman, and made off with several servers containing customer data. The thieves might not even have known what kind of data they were getting, but in a facility patronized by government agencies and multi-billion dollar companies, that kind of crapshoot has very high stakes.

While theft is a worst-case scenario, it is perhaps a less likely threat than sabotage or power failure. In the IT world, offering 100% uptime – as opposed to 99.9% -- is audacious, and Terremark has taken extreme precautions to justify the claim. Fully redundant duplicated twin core routers bring in power from the Culpeper grid offering two complete, parallel feeds of fiber optic cable and power. Each of the five data centers sports redundant water-cooled air conditioning and power as well as a dizzying taxonomy of backups, breakers, and power distribution gear. These core routers are housed in windowless boxes with 12-inch thick concrete walls.

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The facility's five data centers each have their own dedicated generator powered by 11 diesel engines. But in the event of an outage, getting steady, uninterrupted power could be a problem. The answer: entire banks of UPSs – short for “uninterruptable power source” -- that are like massive, whirring file cabinets. Inside aren't batteries, like most consumer UPSs, since the number of batteries required to support a facility like this even for a few minutes would cover acres. Instead, these UPSs contain massive, 300-pound flywheels spinning at several thousand RPM. If power cuts, the flywheels continue to spin, and their momentum provides enough power to last the facility until the diesel backups can kick in.

Terremark's breaker room reveals that the company might consume more power than most third-world countries, but its commitment to green technology could save the company up to 30% in energy costs

There are only two ways in or out of the Terremark facility: through the welcome center, and through the shipping and receiving dock. Both are manned by armed guards ensconced in bullet-proof glass vestibules, controlling crash-proof gates. The guards are anti-terror trained.

“We want to be the Apple of data centers,” Laudermilch says. In an age where the majority of most companies' assets lie in intellectual property, and most of those assets can fit onto a single hard drive, the risk faced by data storage facilities is higher than ever. If it's secrecy that Terremark's facility is after, Laudermilch just might have the right muse in mind.

Guarding Data in the Age of Terror

On the outskirts of the quiet town of Culpeper, Virginia, a $250 million compound nears completion. From afar, it looks like many technology campuses – but get closer, and it looks less like Redmond and more like Riker's Island. "There's no fancy glass welcome sign here... the first thing you see when you arrive is a massive concrete wall," says the facility's managing director, Norm Laudermilch. His company, Terremark [NASDAQ:TMRK], is in the process of building the most "secure and survivable" data storage facility on earth, right here in Culpeper. Why here? "It's commutable to DC, but outside that city's blast radius." Blast radius? What on earth are they storing here, anyway?

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