By ALAN SHACKLETON
What had been the southwest Scarborough home of Eli Lilly Canada for more than 70 years, is now in the process of being transformed into an enormous private data centre housing thousands of computers.
The 19-acre Lilly site, at the northwest corner of Danforth Avenue and Birchmount Road, has been a hive of activity over the past few month as preparations are being made for it to become the new home for STACK Infrastructure’s first Canadian facility.
“STACK Infrastructure is a digital infrastructure solution partner, which means that we lease critical capacity to technology companies and enterprises which then run their services from our data centres,” explained Tim Hughes, Vice-President, Strategy of STACK Infrastructure in response to email questions from Beach Metro News.
Based in the United States, STACK already runs data centres in a number of locations including Northern Virginia, Silicon Valley in California, Chicago and Fort Worth, Texas to name a few.
“STACK is one of the largest private data centre platforms in the U.S. and works with the world’s largest and most innovative companies,” said Hughes. “We couldn’t be more excited to plant our roots in Toronto.”
For the Scarborough site, STACK is partnering with Canadian construction and development company First Gulf to retrofit and expand the data centre campus.
Eventually, when running at full capacity, the campus will have a total of 56MW (megawatts) of available computing power.
Exactly how many computers there will be at the Scarborough site depends on “how power-intensive the computers are,” said Hughes.
Reliable and plentiful sources of electrical power are critical to the operations of large data centres, and one of the reasons the Scarborough site was chosen. The location is close to three Toronto Hydro substations, said STACK in a release. It will also have its own “electrical redundancy” generators.
“STACK chose this location for multiple reasons. First of all, this location presents the opportunity to sustainably retrofit a 70-year-old facility with a long legacy of business in the area,” said Hughes.
“It also provides the rare ability to expand the campus in the Toronto metro area from the initial 8MW of critical capacity to an additional 48MW in the future. Since it is located directly adjacent to the largest fibre trunk running through Ontario, it provides an opportunistic low-latency option to support hyperscalers.”
(Basically, low latency means quick access to the flow of data generated by the computers at the site to the users who need it. Hyperscale basically means a facility has enough power to run more than 5,000 computers and exceeds 10,000 square feet.)
“We chose the Toronto area in part for its strong ties to top financial and industrial companies. In addition to being home for the Toronto Stock Exchange and the headquarters of Canada’s five largest banks, it’s also a major commerce and telecommunications regional hub,” said Hughes. “STACK provides critical capacity for hyperscale cloud providers and enterprises to expand their footprint here, which will immediately benefit businesses in the region.”
To run a facility of this size, space is needed and that was one of the advantages to the former Lilly site. It’s on a huge section of land already, with lots of existing building space and plenty of room for more.
Work on the Scarborough site is expected to be ongoing over the next three or four years.
“The Phase 1 retrofit will be complete by mid-2022 and will include ongoing continuous development,” said Hughes.
Eventually, the second phase or Future Phase of the data centre will see another large building erected on what is now viewed by many in the community as the large front lawn of the Lily site facing onto Danforth Avenue.
The construction and retrofitting work over the next three to four years will provide hundreds of on-site jobs, said Hughes. Once complete, the data centre “will provide 30-50 high-quality industrial jobs internally,” he said.
“STACK’s Toronto location will be a driver of job creation, and also enable technology jobs in the Greater Toronto Area,” said Hughes. “The digital infrastructure industry provides an economic ripple that includes indirect jobs, billions in economic output, and an increase in the spread of technology industries.”
Hughes said the company is looking forward to becoming a part of the southwest Scarborough and East Toronto community.
“For our new neighbours in Scarborough, the good news is that STACK’s data centres run on 100 per cent renewable energy. They don’t come with a lot of new traffic and they provide good, high-quality jobs,” he said.