GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Inside the former Steelcase research and development facility — now the Switch Pyramid Campus — there is patented technology protecting the data storage of companies like eBay, DreamWorks Animation, News Corporation and eHarmony.
But explaining how all of it works, the advance innovations and what they mean for the future can be a challenge.
“It’s hard to be succinct when you’re talking about the future of the internet of absolutely everything and what the infrastructure is that takes to run it,” said Switch Executive Vice President of Strategy Adam Kramer.
For the first time since the company took over ownership of the iconic pyramid in southern Kent County, Switch opened the pyramid’s doors to the media on Tuesday.
UPGRADES TO THE PYRAMID
From the outside it’s still the old pyramid building that rises out of a field at the corner of 60th Street and East Paris Avenue in Gaines Township.
But now, Switch’s familiar air handling systems — the large red units that make sure all the data storage servers inside stay cool — have popped up around the building. Company officials said those changes are just the beginning.
“The build out here is well ahead of schedule and it’s really because the demand and reception from our clients has been even better than expected,” said Kramer.
No cameras were allowed on the tour. Much of what’s led to the company’s success is one reason we can only show pictures Switch has provided when it comes to the inside of the pyramid.
The company has a reputation for the security it provides, keeping information on client servers and technology that protects the place from falling into the wrong hands. While heavy security is one of the more obvious investments at the company’s new East Coast hub, there are other, less obvious measures.
During renovations, all water pipes inside were rerouted to the outer ring of the building — guaranteeing a broke pipe won’t fry a server.
The red aid handlers cut cooling cost and save energy by removing heat instead of cooling it.
All of these tasks are handled by some 700 workers, from construction to skilled trades, and the work will be continuous.
Switch has already won local approval to build a SUPERNAP Center, a standalone facility at the Pyramid site with more data storage space.
As the build out continues and a skilled workforce become harder to find, Switch has been working with area educators to make sure they have a steady stream of talent.
“We’ve been working with Grand Rapids Community College to develop the same type of program in partnership without internal training program called Switch University. So that we can take people who have some of the basic skill sets that would work in this environment and train them up to and train them up to where they need to be. The reception has been phenomenal,” Kramer said.
INNEVATION CENTER MAY COME TO PYRAMID CAMPUS
Beyond the data storage servers and the big red air handlers, exclusive to Switch facilities all over the world, there is another innovation the company plans to bring to West Michigan that could help foster the next big idea.
Back in 2011, when the country’s economy tanked, Switch founder Rob Roy came up with a plan that brought together ideas and the means to make them happen.
Roy built the Switch Innevation Center to Switch’s Las Vegas campus. The ‘nev’ in the middle is deliberate, in honor of the company’s home state of Nevada.
>>Photos: Inside Switch’s Nevada campus
“To breakdown the silos that naturally occur in different forms of economic development and help people work together,” said Kramer. “We don’t want to repeat anything people are doing, but we do want to bring people together.”
Discussion are underway to create an Innevation Center at the Pyramid Campus. There is proof of the center’s success.
One of the ideas nurtured at the Las Vegas Innevation Center is Banjo. It’s called a digital crystal ball.
Banjo is described as an event detection engine that takes social media posts on a given event and organizes them by location. An organization that wants real-time social media posts on an event can use the Banjo technology.
“Now they have investment from around the world and other partners, including Intel,” Kramer said.
Kramer says there’s no timetable for bringing an Innevation Center to the Pyramid Campus.