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Colombia has recently become attractive as an outsourcing destination, and this has boosted the data center market. This year the field is opening more to companies with a special interest in free trade zones.

In addition to a plan to expand the Claro data center in Bogotá, Colombia has several new data centers, either built or planned, including IBM, Bogotá Zona Franca (Bogotá Free Trade Zone) and Occidente Zona Franca (West Free Trade Zone).

Economic growth and political stability have all combined to propel the country’s IT industry. If you add to that improving power sources and a skilled labour force all provided favourable conditions for building data centers. However, these would be meaningless without the increasing demand for outsourcing, colocation and cloud the country is experiencing.

Historically Colombia has had far fewer data centers per square meter than its Latin American neighbors. “The country has been lagging behind in this area. According to some researches, in Colombia there are only around 14,000 square meters of data center for a population of over 45 million people. In a country with an economy similar to ours, such as Chile, but with a population of 17 million people, the amount of square meters is 40,000”, says Alvaro Muñoz, general manager of the West Free Trade Zone.

It seems Colombia wants to change this, and move up in the ranking, and it expects to host some of the most modern data centers in the region in the future. In the pipeline are the following new builds.

IBM adds its fourth data center
After a construction process of approximately two years, IBM started operating a new data center in Colombia in April 2014, the fourth one that the company has in the country. The main reason for taking this decision was the growth rate experienced by the organization in recent times which threatened to overwhelm the existing infrastructure. “We were growing at a pace that implied the other data centers would soon be fully loaded, and we were not going to be able to offer further capacity to our clients,” says Juan Carlos Hincapie, IBM Service Manager for Colombia.

Having a contingency infrastructure was one of the reasons that led IBM to build this new data center: the recently opened facility will be redundant when IBM opens its next one in Bogotá.
The new one will be connected via dark fiber to make active- replicas. Apart from these data centers, IBM has another one in the Colombian capital city and a fourth one in Medellin.

IBM is using a modular design structured in three phases, which once completed will lead to a technological complex of around 5,000 sq m - around 1,500 sq m of which will be white space (the usable raised floor area.)

The first stage has been concluded and has received an investment of $17 million. In this phase, there is a total productive area of 400 sq m, easily expandable to 600 sq m. If you include the space provided for power plants, refuelling station and monitoring rooms, the existing site adds up to 1,500 sq m.

“The business is growing at a pace of 200 to 300 sq m per year” added Hincapie. “If this trend continues we should activate the second construction phase at the end of the year.”

The impact of the DC
The IBM installation in Mosquera, just outside Bogotá achieves a power of 1.9 megawatt with two 100 percent redundant generators, and has a LEED certified hot refuelling station, with fuel for a week.

IBM has implemented free cooling technology taking advantage of the temperatures recorded in the area. Other green features in this facility include water recirculation - which returns clean, treated water to the environment. IBM has its own building and certification system outside the scope of international organizations such as the Uptime Institute, although the manager estimates that, in terms of availability, the facility would correspond to a Tier III+.

This data center will be important in IBM’s worldwide cloud strategy. In addition, it provides hosting, contingency and outsourcing of traditionally offered services.  However, Hincapie points out that colocation is not the focus of IBM’s services: “This type of service implies a very high investment though financially they are not very exciting”, he concludes.

Free trade zone gains
Due to their intrinsic features - available infrastructure and tax concessions - free trade zones are a focus of attraction for all types of businesses, as well as for data centers. The various Colombian free trade zones have become important players in this field, dedicated to providing storage infrastructure and data processing to third parties.

Zona Franca Bogotá knows this business well and is currently building its fourth data center, whose customer is a company in the telecommunications sector. The owners/users of existing data centers include Terremark, Synapsis, BT and Telefónica.

“With this data center we intend to help organizations grow, from the ones within the free trade zone, as well as those outside needing to have contingency facilities in already prepared sites,” said Juan Pablo Rivera, President of the Zona Franca in Bogotá.

In May this year the free trade zone began a period of data center construction. This will consist of two buildings: one containing the generators for the backup power system, while the second 2200 sq m building will house all the power and cooling infrastructure, as well as white space.

The first phase will probably be operational by mid-October, with around 340 sq m of IT space. After six months a second phase will begin, also with 340 sq m, reaching a total IT area of 680 sq m.

For the Tier III certification process, the facility power system will have two input buses, a power substation in each branch to supply 1.5kVA per square meter of white area and four generators 1MW each in an N+1 configuration. In the final phase, there will also be four air conditioning units in the data center, of 240 tons each, and again in an N+1 configuration. The free trade zone has decided, for this project, to use free cooling in order to achieve a PUE below 1.8.

Larger scale objective
The data center is included within a national project of greater significance. Zona Franca Bogotá is undertaking the construction of the ZF Towers technology park (above), an initiative to attract technology and data center companies in a space that will feature up to 180,000 sq m distributed in five phases. Today, the park is operating more than 50,000 sq m and another infrastructure of 30,000 sq m is being built, which will be operational in May 2015. “With this technology park, the idea is to house more data centers. We have several requests that surely will make us continue on this path,” said Rivera.

Starting in Occidente
Although operation will not start until the first half of 2015, the last of the data centers showing the boost Colombia is experiencing will be another DC in a free trade zone: this time the Occidente free trade zone located in the municipality of Mosquera, 12 kilometres from Bogotá.

The first data center of this free trade zone will be located in an area of 328,000 sq m. It will be carried out by a team that has already performed several similar projects, and when fully built it promises to be one of the largest data centers in Colombia.

Figures speak for themselves: in a building of approximately 5,200 sq m, there will be 2,000 sq m of white space in the first phase, which will be distributed in four rooms of 500 sq m each. Of those, one is already assigned to a financial institution.

There is $40 million assigned to this first phase, but a fresh investment for another similar building could be added, if there is sufficient demand.

In terms of power the Zona Franca de Occidente also has much to offer. The company insists that one of the great challenges of data centers is to obtain a reliable, redundant and permanent power, something which they can provide in abundance.