Sears Holdings has created a new subsidiary, Ubiquity Critical Environments, which will turn its numerous empty stores into turnkey data centers: just add modular containers to a 250,000-square-foot store gathering dust and—presto—instant facility.
Thanks to its 2005 merger with K Mart, Sears has a considerable number of buildings on its books. But the economy, combined with strong competition from Wal-Mart and online retailers, has emptied out many of those stores. According to Ubiquity chief operating officer Sean Farney, Sears has roughly 280 million square feet of empty space, ranging from old Sears stores built in the 1930s “that were built like battleships” to closed-down Super K storefronts.
Farney is looking to repurpose these stores into data centers at minimal expense. All of them sit atop major fiber-optic backbones and have at least one megawatt of power available, along with water and cooling systems.
“This is a redevelopment play where we look at 280 million square feet, third largest [undeveloped space] in the U.S., and saying let’s look for opportunities to do something out of the box,” he said. All told, Farney is looking at three different businesses for these old buildings: data centers, disaster recovery sites and offering rooftop space to wireless providers to plant antennae.
Farney helped Microsoft build its massive Chicago data center, which consists of modular containers. His solution for Sears is containers, as well. A Super K store has a high ceiling and a loading dock, making it easy to bring in the containers, which are usually designed to fit on the trailer of a semi. “It’s a perfect setup for a pre-engineered, pre-fab solution,” he said.
The modular systems handle their own cooling and electrical use, so there is no need to go through the building and give it a significant upgrade. Using a modular system gives the data center a default PUE of 1.2 or less, Farney suggested.
“It takes a bit of work with these old ones, but all you need is an onsite power supply into which you plug the modular solution. What a big box store is is basically a mechanical and electrical spine with onsite power and water and a fiber room. You deploy a modular solution and it becomes like a giant garage,” he said.
With so many closed stores in the Sears and K Mart families, Farney said there is an opportunity to put data centers in a variety of areas: “I’m not ready for a data center in a dense urban area. Given the breadth of the Sears portfolio, I’ve got such a variety of choices and locations I don’t necessarily have to go into a dense urban area.”
What he hopes to do is serve secondary cities and markets that have been bypassed by colo and hosting providers. Farney notes that 70 percent of the US population lives within 10 miles of a Sears or K Mart. Potential customers for such refurbishments include retail colocation providers or enterprise customers who have local needs.
But it will be a while. Sears just launched Ubquity in March. Farney said he hopes to have some data centers up and running by the end of the year.