Meet Rob Roy, the man who built the SuperNAP data center

Switch Communications' founder says SuperNAP is the most energy efficient, high-density data center in the world

Rob Roy -- who has a life-sized Terminator statue in his office -- says his company's 407,000-square-foot SuperNAP is the most energy efficient, high-density data center in the world.

When your name is Rob Roy, and you set out to build the world's most efficient, high-density data center, there's no sense in being modest. The CEO, founder and chairman of Switch Communications Group, and the man behind the massive SuperNAP co-location center, Roy is not one to understate his achievements.

Chatting with Roy, it quickly becomes clear that one of his favorite words in the English language is "most." The SuperNAP is the most efficient data center in the world, the most dense, he says. If "most" isn't his favorite word, perhaps it is "best." The SuperNAP has the best design, the best connection hub, the best price on bandwidth, the best customer service.

View a slideshow on the SuperNAP data center.)

Given Roy's bravado, it seems curious that he has spent the better part of a decade avoiding press coverage. Roy had a sort of media coming-out party last May in the Register, a London-based tech pub which ran the headline "Welcome to Las Vegas – Home of the technology superpower you've never heard of."

Register journalist Ashlee Vance spent weeks calling and e-mailing Switch Communications, meeting nothing but silence until he finally was able to arrange an interview with Roy through Sun chairman and co-founder Scott McNealy. Sun is apparently one of the company's customers.

Switch Communications was mainly a government and military contractor in its early days, but now also targets Fortune 1000 customers (such as Sony). Roy explains he originally hadn't planned to seek media coverage until the opening of Switch's seventh data center, the SuperNAP, which occurred in September 2008.

"My fiduciary responsibility is to my shareholders," he says. "How much marketing have you ever seen me do? None. We don't do any."

Network World secured a tour of the SuperNAP through APC, which outfitted the data center with NetShelter SX racks, thousands of rack-mounted power distribution units and UPS power supplies. Naturally, Roy says he chose APC because it designed "the best UPS product ever made."

Roy is almost 40 years old. Thanks to his wife and daughter, he works in an office surrounded by various figurines from the worlds of King Kong and Middle-earth, a Predator head, and a custom-made, life-sized, gun-toting Terminator.

Life-size Terminator

"I have the coolest family ever. How many families get you a Terminator?" he notes.

On the topic of family, Roy says he got much of his inspiration from his father, who became a quadriplegic when Roy was 12 and thereafter earned a computer science degree.

"He couldn't type. I was the oldest. We had a dummy terminal to the university and he got his computer science degree over four years from the time I was 13 to 17," Roy says. "I typed every single thing for that degree. Of course, I didn't have a computer science degree at 17. But pretty close."

Roy eventually got into commercial real estate, and basically fused his two fields of expertise in his current venture.

He may not be universally liked – the Register article quotes anonymous sources who doubted Roy could supply enough power to the massive SuperNAP and said he tends to promise more than he can deliver.

But Roy appears to be having no trouble luring customers into the SuperNAP. Although he could not reveal most of his customers publicly, he says two of the world's largest new cloud-computing concepts are based at the SuperNAP, as well as some online gaming systems, including one run by Sony.

As of early December, Roy had sold more than 1,000 of the 7,000 potential SuperNAP cabinets.

"Most data centers don't even have 1,000 cabinets," he says.

Switch has 678 customers overall and more than 20 in the SuperNAP. Roy says data center space is selling faster than he expected, but competitors won't be able to rest easy when it's filled up. That's because the first SuperNAP will not be the last.

"We own all three parcels of land around the substation next door," Roy says. "We can build three of these."

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