Lightyears Ahead: How LightEdge Brought the Future to Altoona

When LightEdge opened their first Altoona data center in 2007, some people didn’t know what to make of it.

“People were asking us, What is a data center?” recalls Jim Masterson, LightEdge CEO. “Today, you’re beginning to see them everywhere. You look around, in this area alone, and you see Facebook, Microsoft—they’re all here. But we were the first.”

The reason we’re seeing more data centers today is simply because there’s more data than ever before. Data is information; it can range from photographs to credit card transactions to raw binary code. Pretty much anything you do online—and many of the things you do offline—generate data. Now, with the rise of social media, digitization, and greater computing power, people are generating more data and companies are collecting more of it than ever before.

But there’s a catch: When we create data, we need a place to store it. That’s where LightEdge comes in.

Normally, you may not think of data as something physical, but it does take up space – a lot of space, when you’re talking about Big Data. Data lives on networks of hard drives (AKA servers) which are basically massive versions of the blocky towers you see with desktop computers.

new data storage space


In a nutshell, LightEdge stores, manages, and protects data. Their Altoona facility is a “Hybrid Solution Center”, supplying power, cooling, connectivity, and security for organizations to tap into. Companies can store their data within racks, cages, or dedicated suites to bypass the headaches that come with building and managing their own on-premises facilities.

Jim calls this shared-space concept “next-generation IT”.

“Next-generation IT is about looking to a company like LightEdge to outsource the technology and manage it for you in a facility you could never afford to build yourself, while doing it with the professional skills required to take care of today’s complex technology environments.”

Storing, protecting, and managing data for some of the top companies in the U.S. is a far cry from caring for a home computer. First, there are the servers themselves, which are as big as cattle. Not only are they large; they’re also delicate. They need just the right temperature and humidity at all times – not too cool, not too hot, just right. If the servers’ climate isn’t perfectly Goldilocks, their data could be jeopardized. Managing this climate requires a large, dependable source of energy.

Then, there’s security. You’ve probably heard about data breaches before – like what happened to Target, Yahoo!, and Sony. For hackers, data is better than gold. Now that there’s more data than ever, and more valuable data than ever, there are more people trying to steal it or even just corrupt it. Criminals go to incredible lengths to get their hands on data. Fortunately, companies like LightEdge go to incredible lengths to protect it.

data storage


LightEdge doesn’t just protect data; they protect some of the most sensitive data that exists. In the data industry, people call this practice “compliant” data services, which means that the data comes from industries heavily regulated by the government, like finance and healthcare. That means information about your personal health or your credit card could be stored on these servers. Because this data is extra-sensitive, companies that use it have to follow an extensive set of rules designed to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. LightEdge has just the right experts and infrastructure to host, manage, and protect this data while complying with these rules—hence their motto, “The leader in compliant cloud & colocation”.

LightEdge goes to extreme lengths to keep this data safe. Their security feels like something out of Mission: Impossible, with face-scanning technology and multi-authentication checkpoints at every junction of the facility. The climate in the server room is carefully controlled, set to just the right temperature and humidity, and a team of IT pros monitors the facility around the clock to make sure everything is running smoothly. They’ve even accounted for disasters. Each of their colocation facilities are interconnected via a private, high-speed fiber backbone, which means they can guarantee 100% uptime for their clients. For example, if the internet crashed throughout all of Greater Des Moines, LightEdge could redirect data through another one of their data centers in Kansas City or Omaha without missing a beat. (This approach is called “geodiversity”.) In other words, LightEdge leaves nothing to chance.

For data companies, location is critical. Traditionally, many of these companies were located on the East or West Coast, but coastal regions are vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding, and, in California, wildfires. With climate change, the risk is only getting worse. In addition to the risk of natural disaster, the coasts are crowded, and the land is typically expensive. The Midwest, with our relatively mild climate, flat topography, and inexpensive land, is the perfect home for a data center, which is why companies like LightEdge, Facebook, and Microsoft are beginning to look central.

For Jim, Altoona was the ideal spot for a LightEdge data center.

“We chose Altoona outside of every other market we looked at because of a number of things,” Jim says. “The town is situated literally at the confluence of I-80 and I-35. That’s a big deal. It’s easy to get to and from different marketplaces, like Minneapolis and Chicago. It’s also important because all the major fiber optics providers go up and down that highway. It’s a perfect spot for us.

“The area here has wonderful access to fiber. We have wonderful access to power. And frankly, it’s centrally located for our employees who are spread around the city and the surrounding area.”

data storage wiring


LightEdge is doing important work – by protecting our data, they’re protecting our future. And with room to grow, access to power, fiber optics, major highways, a talented workforce, and a great community, it’s happening right now in the city of Altoona.

This post is part of an ongoing Business Feature series by AltoonaNow. To see last month’s feature, where we meet the founder of a local Tae Kwon Do club, click here.