Canada’s largest data centre opens in old Toronto Star printing press

What was once an iconic facility of the print news industry will now instead become home to the largest data centre in Canada.

At the height of its production at 1 Century Place, the Toronto Star’s printing plant saw more than 55,000 newspapers per hour rolling off its presses, requiring 1 MW of power to produce one of Canada’s most popular newspapers. The printing operation was closed in January 2016 as Torstar struck a deal with Transcontinental Printing. Today, with the opening of Digital Realty’s data centre in that location, it will become home to 23 computer rooms with as much as 3 MW in power capacity per room.

At 711,000 square feet and up to 46 MW of total power supply on offer, Digital Realty’s new TOR1 data center dwarfs Bell Canada’s Q9 Toronto Two data centre at 400,000 square feet. Though the Q9 location offers more 185,000 square feet of that space for colocation purposes, while TOR1 will offer 50,000 square feet. But however you look at it, it’s big.

A look at 1 Century Place from Google Street View.
A look at 1 Century Place from Google Street View.

That’s the way Digital Realty does data centres, says Scott Mills, global vice-president of sales engineering and solution architecture for the firm. He points to Digital Realty’s Building L project in Ashburn, Va. that is currently under construction as part of an expansion project in the densely-connected North Virginia area.

“When it’s done you’ll be able to fit two aircraft carriers inside of it,” he says. But he also appreciates the historical aspect of setting up shop in what was Canada’s largest newspaper facility for more than 25 years.

“You have this storied building that was central to the print industry,” he says. “It will be interesting to see the repurpose into an iconic, multi-use data centre.”

This video was posted to Youtube as The Toronto Star was selling off its six Manroland Colorman Presses. The interior of the building has since been transformed into a data centre. 

In opening up the huge facility, Digital Realty points to Toronto’s booming technology cluster, with more than 15,000 companies along the Toronto to Waterloo corridor. The data centre is located in Vaughan, Ont., which is a part of York Region, home to another 4,300 tech companies. All those tech firms will need computer infrastructure and connectivity, Mills says, though Digital Realty isn’t disclosing its fill rate at this time. He anticipates that cloud service providers will be a key customer of the data centre facilities, taking up as much as one-quarter of the building. Otherwise there will be plenty of retail data centre space available to enterprises that are running their own infrastructure, such as members of the financial industry.

Digital Realty made its announcement at a Toronto-based industry event hosted by Structure Research. Philbert Shih, managing director of Structure Research, says the opening of such a large data centre space can be traced back to the growth of the public cloud, and the hyperscale providers that are delivering it.

“The primary tenants of these buildings make a very short list,” he says. “It’s less than 10.”

Namely, the public cloud’s spike can be attributed to tech giants including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. There’s healthy demand for the cloud services these firms provide, and therefore those firms are looking to expand their data centre space and get as close as possible to their customers.

“I’m don’t worry about a bubble at all,” Shih says. “There are just too many demand drivers and the market is mature enough that the operators are disciplined in how they deploy their capital.”

Instead of building the computer rooms with power supplies and air conditioning already integrated, Digital Realty will wait to see what its customer’s needs are before installing that equipment.

“The modularity of the design allows us to execute on the second stages of construction very quickly,” Mills says. “The way we designed the rollout of this building was with the notion of a backbone infrastructure.”

meeting room at 1 Century Place
A look inside the revamped facility shows a meeting space. Courtesy of Digital Realty.

The space inside the facility can be augmented to deliver different cooling and power requirements based on customer needs. The facility will also offer some premium connectivity opportunities, including a dark fibre backbone straight to 151 Front St., a carrier hotel and site of the Toronto Internet Exchange.

With a utility substation right next door, it will be easier to meet the high power demands of hosting so much IT infrastructure.

The TOR1 facility will be opened by Digital Realty, but the project was started by DuPont Fabros Technology. That firm was acquired by Digital Realty on Sept. 14, 2017 for $7.8 billion in stock. The deal saw DuPont Fabros board members Micahel Coke and John Roberts join Digital Realty’s Board of Directors.

“We’d brought over the very talented staff and integrated them quickly into our business,” Mills says.

Continuing the construction on the new facility was a seamless process, he says.

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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