The fact that physical retailers have been struggling to keep up with their online counterparts is no surprise. But now, some data center operators are taking up space in the very locations where those retailers once sold their goods.
Across the country, millions of square feet of former retail space sits unused. And while most other industries have no need for such sites, multiple aspects of an average department store are ideal for use as a data center. An Indiana data center has been established in a now-vacated Fort Wayne Target store, and the same will happen to a department store in Jackson, Mississippi next year. A Maryland data center has even been established in one section of the Marley Station Mall in Baltimore, which the service provider offered to completely buy out last year but was turned down.
Deepak Jain, CEO of AiNET, the provider that operates a Baltimore data center, said that his company found the most attractive real estate prices to be in middle-class neighborhoods where online shopping has seen a major increase.
"The Internet helps serve that dislocation, and there's no trend in sight that seems to change that," said Jain.
Vacant Retail Spaces Offer Necessary Data Center Features
Former big box retail locations are desirable as potential data centers because they offer a variety of features necessary for a computing facility. The sites have few windows, offer vast floor space and are capable of standing up to severe weather conditions without much additional reinforcement. Rich Banta, co-founder of Lifeline Data Centers which operates an Indiana data center, said the former Target store was ideal because it was outside a flood zone, five miles from the airport and more than half a mile from a highway, rail line or river.
"By the time you've done all that vetting, most sites don't fit that criteria," said Banta.
While the relative lack of security present in most vacant mall sites can cause a problem for facilities looking to host sensitive data and services, smaller customers with less demanding needs for rack space would be ideal clients for such a location.
The shift from retail space to computing facilities doesn't provide the same level of employment or sales tax revenue as these areas once experienced, the data center operators do provide much-needed tenants to malls in stretches of suburban landscapes that stood long vacant.