A Pennsylvania company has plans to build a massive data center at the site of the former Pfizer labs on Ridge Road in South Brunswick. David Crocker, Steel Orca CEO, says his company is planning that at its full size, the center will have 12,000 equipment racks and will use the same amount of power as a small city.

“Princeton is a terrifically attractive place for a data center,” Crocker says. “There is plenty of demand subsequent to Hurricane Sandy. The New York market is expanding.”

In 2011 Crocker announced an equally ambitious plan to build a 300,000-square-foot data center at the Keystone Industrial Port Complex in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. Last year, he decided to build in Princeton instead. Crocker says the shift was for economic reasons. “We felt that the infrastructure costs in New Jersey were significantly less than in the KIPC and demand in New Jersey dwarfed that of the opportunity on the Pennsylvania side of the river,” he wrote in an E-mail.

Crocker says the new facility will start by offering traditional data center services — a place where customers can locate their own equipment. Eventually he plans to offer computing services on a fee-per-transaction basis, meaning companies would essentially rent computer space from Orca.

He compared this model to the way the power grid works. “You don’t have to build a power generation plant in order to turn on the lights in your facility,” he says. “All you do is plug into the grid.”

About 10,000 square feet of the 300,000 square foot facility will be occupied by Villanova University. The VSORC (pronounced “vee-source”) lab will be a place for university researchers to study energy use in data centers and invent ways for them to be more power efficient in the future.

Crocker says that initially Steel Orca will draw all of its power from the grid — about 45 megawatts worth. Eventually, however, he plans to build additional generation capacity from natural gas, solar power, and solid oxide fuel cells, totaling up to 30 more megawatts. Together, this is enough energy to power about 30,000 homes.

This massive use of power is part of the reason for the VSORC project. Villanova, which is funding the lab with a federal grant, will study ways data centers around the country could reduce that huge power consumption. “Villanova’s engineering team is going to be running a facility inside our building where they will be doing R&D, but teaching their constituents the principles of thermal and fluid dynamics as related to data centers to help manufacturers learn to manufacture equipment that is more efficient,” he says. That means building equipment that either runs cooler, or which tolerates running hot. Either one of those would reduce the need to use so much electricity cooling the place.

Steel Orca plans to become a “carrier hotel” where multiple Internet service providers vie for customers. Crocker says the lab boasts very quick communications with Philadelphia and New York City — less than a millisecond of delay — which is an important consideration for many kinds of computing, including high-speed financial trading.

The center, however, is not specifically targeted for the financial market. Rather, he hopes to take advantage of all the industries present on the Route 1 corridor. “There is also the healthcare market, hospitals, lots of pharma, banking and finance, and the educational community is strong,” Crocker says. “There is also lots of science and manufacturing.”

Crocker says the first phase, of about 1,000 racks, will be complete by the second quarter of the year.

Crocker’s links to the Mercer business community go back at least a generation. He grew up in Yardley, Pennsylvania, where his mother was a homemaker and his father owned Broadway Moving, a transportation company that still exists in Trenton under the Atlas name, and which is owned by Crocker’s brother.

A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Crocker was CEO of Octopus Technologies, a company that developed first generation cluster technology for Microsoft Windows NT. Before joining Steel Orca, he was a founder of Ripple Technologies and was president of Aserdiv Inc.

Crocker does have competition in the data center marketplace. Late last year, Lam Cloud Business & Continuity opened a data center/workplace and disaster recovery facility in the former AIG headquarters in Cranbury.

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