South Whidbey company makes digital connection

At a terminal installed in a rack at LightStream Data Centers in Everett, George Henny explains how the facility will be home to hundreds of computer servers owned by companies in the Puget Sound area. - Matt Johnson
At a terminal installed in a rack at LightStream Data Centers in Everett, George Henny explains how the facility will be home to hundreds of computer servers owned by companies in the Puget Sound area.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

In a seventh-floor office space in the Everett Mutual Tower, it is always 72 degrees and sunny.

Behind specially keyed doors and bulletproof glass and locked inside a climate-controlled room that requires an approved thumbprint to enter is a place waiting to house the brains of Puget Sound business.

This place is LightStream Data Centers, a new Whidbey Telephone Co. subsidiary which by early next year will house perhaps hundreds of computer servers that power the Internet, banks, professional and technology firms, and other information-intensive businesses in what amounts to a “server hotel.” Several years and an undisclosed number of dollars in the making, the company will begin renting floor and rack space in its 5,000-square-foot computer environment in January.

The business promises not only to make money for Whidbey Telephone, but to give Whidbey Island Internet users a faster, more reliable connection to the World Wide Web.

Company president George Henny said LightStream will be a small but successful player in the the Northwest’s off-site data storage market. Up against huge off-site companies, such as Tukwila’s Exodus, which maintain warehouses of servers measuring 100,000 square feet or more, LightStream will be a choosier data host. Henny said the company is targeting bricks-and-mortar companies that survived the dot-com collapse of the past year — companies that will continue to pay the bills through unsure economic times. The pantheon of dot-com startups that began going bust in 2000 killed a number of huge data centers, he said, a situation that had Whidbey Telephone thinking small.

“They tried to do too much,” he said.

While LightStream is clearly a player in the mainland business scene, it also promises to be a boon to the Whidbey Island economy. Employing a number of people from Whidbey Island, the company will bring mainland money onto the island. That was something Henny’s late father, David, wanted out of the company. Part of the planning process until his death earlier this year, the elder Henny pushed the data-center idea after it was proposed by former Whidbey Telephone employee Rich Parker and current WhidbeyNet manager Jeff Walker. George Henny said his father made certain LightStream would fly.

“He wanted it to succeed,” Henny said.

Getting it to that point has taken a lot of work. Because the center was designed to provide off-site Web site hosting, data storage and off-site server capacity, it must guarantee that the data within its walls is safe and accessible at all times. To start, the company purchased space in a building that was constructed to dampen the effects of earthquakes.

Then, with funding from Whidbey Telephone, LightStream management installed a backup power system that includes batteries and a generator. A climate control system keeps the temperature constant in a room that will be heated by hundreds of computers, while a security system worthy of James Bond makes certain only approved customers and personnel can get close to the electronics. LightStream employees will be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week to serve data customers.

Finally, this month, the company completed a high-speed Internet connection with the Westin Building, the hub of Northwest telecommunications. The connection’s bandwidth — or size — is so huge that even WhidbeyNet, Whidbey Telephone’s Internet service, is using LightStream’s connections and Internet routers.

If the company has any goal outside of success, it is to be invisible. Henny said he wants both competitors and customers — to a certain extent — to overlook LightStream’s existence. When it comes to the latter, Henny said, the data service the company provides will be so reliable and fast that customers in, say, Marysville will not be able to tell the difference between accessing data from LightStream or from the computer on their desks.

But Lightstream will be there in case something goes wrong for a customer. By backing up data at LightStream, no disaster can wipe out a business’ information.

“If their building burns down, they’re not out,” Henny said.

The price for all this safety and promised reliability locks business customers into monthly rents that rival those for houses on South Whidbey. For a single server, which measures 1.75 inches in height and 19 inches wide, the space and a basic high-speed Internet hookup are expected to run about $1,100. Prices increase when more space or faster connections are needed.

LightStream is aiming to attract small and medium-sized companies to use its facility. Henny said customers must meet certain standards to locate their information at the center, including a prohibition against Internet companies that market pornography, online gambling and other illegal activities.

Henny would not say how much the effort cost Whidbey Telephone, nor would he disclose information about projected profits. LightStream will accept its first customers in January.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 22
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates