Converting Printing Plants into Data Centers – More Irony in the Publishing Industry

Jeff Hayes
Apr 14, 2011

Earlier this month I/O Data Centers opened their latest modular data center facility at the former site of the New York Times printing plant in Edison, NJ. Apparently printing plants and paper mills have many characteristics that are desired for mega-sized data centers being constructed around the world. How ironic.

The New York Times Co. originally opened the state-of-the-art printing plant in 1992, less than one year after Tim Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the World Wide Web project he had been working on at CERN. Noted Berners-Lee in his post, “The WWW project merges the techniques of information retrieval and hypertext to make an easy but powerful global information system.”

Fast forward 16 years and the publisher announced it was shutting down the facility, reducing the size of the paper by one and a half inches and consolidating production operations at its College Point facility in Queens New York.

Print to Web?

Data centers replacing printing prints. Haven’t I heard this story before? Of course, the “king of data centers” at 350 East Cermak in Chicago.

350 East Cermak, or more simply The Calumet Plant, was originally developed by the R.R. Donnelley Co. between 1912 and 1929 for the production of the Yellow Book phone directories and Sears catalogs. The facility eventually became Donnelley’s headquarters until 1991 when they moved to their current location at 77 West Wacker. In 1993, RRD closed the plant after Sears discontinued its mail-order catalog.

However, The Calumet Plant’s industrial strength infrastructure necessary to hold the weight of the massive presses and thousands of tons of paper was perfect for a modern day data center.

The plant was sold off and converted to an IT and telecommunications center in 1999. The facility now includes four fiber vaults and three electric power feeds which provide the building with more than 100 megawatts of power. Today it is the data center for Chicago’s commodity markets, various financial firms and other tenants.

What Would Google Do?

What about Google? Don’t they have lots of data centers? They sure do, including their newest facility in Hamina Finland that is going operational this year. Check out this excellent video on the water cooling system.

You may have heard news back in March 2009 that Google acquired Stora Enso’s Summa paper mill in Hamina for EUR 40 million. Stora’s decision to close the Summa Mill was in response to “persistent losses in recent years and poor long-term profitability prospects”. The closure eliminated 450 jobs and reduced Stora Enso’s annual capacity by 270,000 tons of standard and improved newsprint and 80,000 tons of uncoated magazine paper.

Persistent losses and poor long-term prospects in the newsprint and uncoated magazine paper market. Hmmm. Do you think Google had something to do with that? I sure do.

Google indicates it has invested 200 million euros to create the Hamina data facility and expects to employ 50 to 60 people when fully operational. The location meets many of Google’s criteria when selecting locations for data centers including:

  • Large volumes of cheap electricity
  • Green energy sources
  • Proximity to rivers and lakes for cooling purposes
  • Large areas of land for more privacy and security
  • Proximity to other Google data centers for fast connections
  • Tax incentives

Based on these criteria, former paper mills and printing plants sound like a great place to convert into a data center.

Transform or Exit

The August 1991 posting by Berners-Lee is widely recognized as the debut of the Web as a publicly available service on the Internet. 20 years later the transformation of the publishing and printing industry is astonishing.

Just yesterday the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) stated that per their calculations, Web-based advertising grew 15% in 2010 to a record high of $26B. Based on this data and the Newspaper Association of America’s (NAA) report on advertising expenditures, Web-based advertising has surpassed newspaper print advertising.


I believe the publishing industry transformation is picking up speed. I think mobility and tablets will complete the transformation with paper-based newspapers, magazines, and books being largely displaced. Remember, the iPad has been on the market for one year and most publishers do not have a tablet version of their publications yet. But they soon will.

Publishers and print (media?) service providers, along with their traditional vendors, need to continue pushing into new markets, services, and business models that embrace our mobile, connected society. If they aren’t able or willing to transform, they may want to consider renovating their facilities into a data center.

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