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Revisiting the World’s Largest Data Center - 350 E Cermak Rd - CHI1

Kevin Hohman
February 19, 2015

If I were to ask you to envision what you think the world’s largest data center looked like, chances are, you probably wouldn’t think of a building that’s over 100 years old.

As it turns out, however, the world’s largest data center, home of Digital Realty's CHI1 facility, is housed in a building that first began construction in 1912. Of course, it didn’t start out as a data center.

At the turn of the century, the RR Donnelley printing company needed a new building to house its printing operations. Working with architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, Thomas E. Donnelley sought “to make the whole building dignified and beautiful–something that will be beautiful not only today, but one hundred years from now.”

The son of Richard R. Donnelley, the company’s founder, T.E. knew that he would need a substantial building to support not only his printing equipment, but also the massive amounts of printed material that would be produced and shipped from the building. As Chief Engineer notes, despite being expensive by the standards of that time, the building was designed to be fireproof, built “with poured reinforced concrete columns and an open-shell concrete floor.” It was also built with an extensive support structure that enabled the floor to bear loads of at least 250 pounds per square foot, which was needed to support the company’s massive printing presses.

The building was completed in segments and was completely finished in 1929. Having spared no expense in its construction, it was clear that the building would serve RR Donnelley well for many years into the future, even if it did take years to complete. The building became RR Donnelley’s headquarters—something it would serve as for 62 more years until the company moved headquarters in 1991. The huge printing presses at the building printed the Yellow Book and Sears Catalog for much of their lifetime, serving the RR Donnelley printing company well for many years. Needless to say, the building that was then known as the R.R. Donnelley Printing Plant was years ahead of its time.

Coincidentally, some of the same traits that made the building great for housing printing equipment when it was first built make it an excellent structure for housing telecom equipment today. The support structure, originally designed for large, heavy printing presses, now enables the building to safely house heavy servers and other modern equipment. The vertical shafts in the building, once used to lower huge reams of newspaper from the upper floors of the building, now serve as risers for fiber and power cabling. Even the location of the building positioned it well for the future, as 350 E. Cermak is now one of the most well-connected buildings in the entire world, with access to hundreds of providers offering everything from voice, data, and internet, to connection to several key financial exchanges.

Now known as the Lakeside Technology Center, this fantastic building was purchased in 1999 and renovated for telecom use. Although it may have started out as a center for printing operations, today, it tops the list of the world’s largest data centers, and recently surpassed Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as Commonwealth Edison’s largest customer in Illinois, with more than 100 megawatts of power. Today, the building has over 1.1 million square feet of space.

Although several other companies currently lease space at 350 E. Cermak, Digital realty is at the heart of all the connectivity within the building. Our CHI1 data center provides access to over 40 of the leading domestic and international carriers and physical connection points of the world's telecommunications networks and Internet backbones. In addition to the space and power we offer customers in our 59,000 square feet of space, Digital Realty runs the meet-me-room at the Lakeside Technology Center. With our extensive experience running meet-me-rooms, Digital Realty tenants at the world’s largest data center are a simple cross connect away from the networks and technology that keep them one step ahead in the digital age.

When T.E. Donnelley had a vision of a building that would be beautiful not only when it was built over 100 years ago, but also a century into the future, he probably could have never imagined that the building would evolve over time into the largest data center in the world. Even so, his long-term vision is what has enabled this wonderful building to remain so relevant over time. Here at Digital Realty, we’re proud to be at the heart of 350 E. Cermak, and know that our customers appreciate the rich connectivity that we’re able to provide in what was once used to house printing equipment and reams of newspaper.

350 E. Cermak was ahead of its time in 1912 when it began its life as the R.R. Donnelley Printing Plant, and it’s still ahead of its time today as the Lakeside Technology Center. To learn more about CHI1 and how it could benefit your business visit please see its information page, or reach out to us via our site’s Contact Us page.