Richmond region poised to become major internet hub with new data centers

Scott Brown founded the Pixel Factory Data Center to manage massive digital photo libraries. Now, it’s poised to be integral to the future of internet infrastructure in the Richmond area and Mid-Atlantic region.

Brown’s business still maintains volumes of photos for local universities’ athletic departments, Ford Motor Co.’s North America racing division and other clients.

Inside his 14,000-square-foot data center and office located in an unassuming warehouse in Hanover County, however, there are dozens of server racks, some labeled with stickers for corporations such as Google and Netflix.

“When you see it, you don’t think much of the blinking lights. But that’s 5,000 movies being watched in real time,” he said.

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With one of the region’s highest concentrations of fiber-optic cables coming from his business, the Pixel Factory is now home to one of the three Internet Exchange nodes that German technology company DE-CIX has established in the Richmond area. The partnership highlights the emergence of the Richmond region as an important stronghold for data center operators and the development of global internet connections to manage the ever-growing transmission of data for generations to come.

Vinay Nagpal — president of the consultancy firm InterGlobix and executive director of the Internet Ecosystem Innovation Committee, a consortium of digital technology companies and business leaders interested in internet infrastructure — said both the private and public sectors in recent years have been capitalizing on new subsea fiber -optic cable connections that land in Virginia Beach.

“What I like to tell people is it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, and it occurred during our respective careers and tenure,” Nagpal said. “I think it’s an incredible blessing and an amazing opportunity.”







Scott Brown (right), founder/owner of Pixel Factory Data Center, talked with Anthony Romanello (left), executive director of the Henrico County Economic Development Authority, and Vinay Nagpal, president of InterGlobix and executive director of the Internet Ecosystem Innovation Committee, in the shared rack space room at the center last week.


ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH



While Northern Virginia, particularly Ashburn in Loudoun County, remains the “mecca” of data centers handling much of the world’s web traffic, he said network development in the Richmond area will make it so that local traffic won’t have to route north.

Brown said that will enable more direct connections between internet service providers and content producers while improving service quality and internet speeds for consumers throughout the Richmond metro region.

The Richmond area’s growing industry presence will be highlighted on Nov. 8 at the IEIC/NAP Summit 2.0 at the Hilton Richmond Hotel and Spa in Short Pump.

In addition to the panel discussions and speeches by industry leaders, including a keynote address by Vint Cerf, an early pioneer of the internet and a vice president of Google as its “Chief Internet Evangelist,” the event will host a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the new DE-CIX Richmond network.


'Father of the internet' to speak at industry summit in Henrico this fall

Vinton Cerf, the computer scientist and industry pioneer known widely as the “father of the …

The new DE-CIX network takes over initial deployments and groundwork laid by the nonprofit Richmond Virginia Internet Exchange that Brown co-founded with the Bank of Virginia and other technology providers, such as SummitIG, Richweb and VA Skywire.

Though he runs a relatively modest operations centers compared to other big data in the area, Brown said his company has found its niche serving smaller internet service providers, such as the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and Firefly Fiber Broadband in the rural areas south of Charlottesville, to provide fast and reliable internet service to homes and businesses in areas in need of it.

“We helped make this ecosystem easier for them to get content to their customers by just connecting the building blocks together and bringing some of those building blocks closer” to other data centers and connection points in the region, Brown said.

Rather than building a new facility, DE-CIX is locating its new nodes at the Pixel Factory in Hanover and at the QTS Richmond and EdgeConneX data centers in Henrico County, which will connect to its other exchange points in New York, Dallas, Chicago and Phoenix and more than 3,000 networks in more than 30 countries, according to Nagpal.







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Romanello


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“With DE-CIX’s international strength and breadth, as well as the depth of reach of our partners and existing relationships, we look forward to building upon the great foundation established by RVA-IX to improve and enhance connectivity solutions in the Richmond market.” said Ed d’Agostino, vice president and general manager of DE-CIX North America, when the company launched its Richmond operation in December.

The new DE-CIX Richmond network also builds upon the growth of eastern Henrico’s QTS Mega Data Center that hosts the Richmond Network Access Point, which provides access to more than 20 network providers and four transcontinental subsea cables that connect to Puerto Rico, Europe and South America.

In addition to the new partnership with DE-CIX, QTS recently announced plans to double the size of its 1.5 million-square-foot data center after acquiring an additional 200 acres of space at the White Oak Technology Park in Sandston.

“We recognize that the digital business world is thriving, the data center industry is growing at an exponential pace to accommodate that change, and we have all the tools to usher in a new era of global communications,” said Clint Heiden, co-founder of the NAP and chief revenue office of QTS, in a statement about the expansion last month.

Before the NAP was established in 2019, most of the internet traffic from Europe was coming through New York and New Jersey. Today, 18% of East Coast internet traffic comes through Henrico, according to the Henrico Economic Development Authority.

And two years earlier, as Microsoft, Facebook and Spanish telecommunications company Telxius were building a 4,000-mile-long subsea fiber cable between Virginia Beach and Bilbao, Spain, Henrico unveiled that Facebook would invest $1 billion in a new 970,000-square-foot data center at White Oak.







Facebook Data Center

Facebook, whose company name is now Meta, built this new data center at White Oak Technology Park in eastern Henrico County.


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Anthony Romanello, executive director of the Henrico Economic Development Authority, said the data center and technology industry has been a vital component of the county’s growth strategy, noting how Henrico leaders lowered the property tax rate on computers and data center equipment by 90% in 2017 to draw development.

“The investments are now beginning to build on each other — the flywheel is turning,” he said. “I think we’re going to see growth throughout the region in data center infrastructure, and then with all of our businesses. This is just one more thing that makes the Richmond area an attractive region and a great place to live.”

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