Special Coverage Series

Network Computing

Special Coverage Series


Data Center Rock Stars

Members of the rock band Live are investing in a company that's building new fiber networks and data centers from Pennsylvania to New York City.

The technology industry has its rock stars--that is, industry luminaries whose accomplishments and insights command respect and admiration, and who can fill a convention hall with lighter-waving fans. The late Steve Jobs was surely one. Linus Torvalds might be another (perhaps in the indie vein). But a startup that's building a fiber optic network is getting backing from actual rock stars--that is, musicians who have recorded songs, toured the world, and sold millions of records.

The company is United Fiber & Data, which is spending about $29 million to lay out 300 miles worth of fiber optic lines from New York to Northern Virginia. The fiber will connect a network of data centers to create alternatives to traditional WAN carrier lines throughout the Northeast Corridor.

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The rock star backers are three of the four band members from Live: Chad Taylor, Patrick Dahlheimer and Chad Gracey. Live rose to prominence in the mid-to-late 90s with radio hits such as "I Alone" and "Lighting Crashes." Live created "anthemic music and idealistic, overtly spiritual songwriting, two hallmarks that earned the group frequent comparisons to U2," according to AllMusic, though the profile doesn't mention the group's budding telecom geekery.

Despite its early success, Live's popularity eventually went into decline. In 2006, Taylor, Dahlheimer and Gracey called a hiatus for Live after the resignation of lead singer Ed Kowalczyk. The three then went on to form Think Loud Holdings, which is investing in UFD.

UFD plans to break ground for the first leg of its 100Gbit/sec fiber network on March. Think Loud has invested about $56 million in UFD and its data centers since 2011, partly in an effort to revive their home communities in Pennsylvania, where several UFD facilities will be based, according to Slashdot.

UFD plans four fortified, extra-secure data centers that will cost about $40 million each; the company will break ground on the first next year. UFD also plans to market its network layout, which avoids "conventional fiber" routes or locations that provide a single point of failure for many carriers' long-distance network connections and connecting the New York and DC metro areas with the kind of secure, high-volume, low-latency connections that link financial exchanges. UFD's fiber map tends toward the rural because it insists on "avoiding all major metropolitan blast zones, terrorist targets and natural disaster regions."

When rock bands go on hiatus, telecom investment isn't usually one of side projects they get involved in. However, Live's members aren't the only rock stars who have invented non-musical second careers. Consider Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of heavy-metal giant Iron Maiden, who became a commercial airline pilot in 2010.

So why data centers and fiber optic networks? Said Live guitarist Chad Taylor in a Slashdot story "You might call data the new punk rock." Or maybe that's what the Clash really meant by "London Calling."



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