Friday, March 20, 2015

Silver Star plans data center for Idaho Falls

Ron McCue
Silver Star Communications is planning to set up a data center in Idaho Falls by next summer, but the challenge is to find a building the right size that is in the right place.

Ron McCue, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said they envision an operation between 30,000 and 50,000 square feet located in a spot that can serve both Idaho Falls Power and Rocky Mountain Power.

“We would like to find an existing building to retrofit,” he said. Rather than constructing something new and nondescript, the company would much prefer to find and interesting old building to remodel. He estimated the cost will be more than $10 million.

Silver Star has already been partnering with Idaho Falls Power, using the city’s dark fiber to provide service to commercial and industrial customers. From Idaho Falls, it has its own fiber to Salt Lake City, where it has Tier 1 servers in the Kearns Building.

“We think eastern Idaho is incredibly important to our economic vitality,” McCue said.

The company has a commitment to rural customers that dates back to the 1920s, when farmers and ranchers in lower Star Valley, Wyoming, built their own phone system. Silver Star Telephone Co. was incorporated in 1948 and in 1953 it a loan from the Rural Electrification Administration that allowed them to build a modern dial system.

Melvin and Ardell Hoopes purchased the controlling interest in the company in 1956, eventually acquiring the remaining stock, and by 1961 they had expanded service into Idaho, providing service to Irwin, Palisades and Swan Valley, and expanding in 1964 to serve the tiny communities of Henry and Wayan.

McCue came to work for the company in 1989, just in time for the revolutionary changes brought on by the Internet. There is no such thing as a telephone company anymore. “Companies really need to be focused on being a broadband company,” he said.

Good Internet service is essential to electrical utilities operating at maximum efficiency. By having large commercial and industrial customers on a high-capacity system, Idaho Falls Power can shed load automatically during times of peak usage. “Say you’ve got a really hot day during the summer when everyone is running their air conditioners at maximum capacity,” McCue said. “We can find industrial equipment that may be unnecessarily consuming power and shut it down, avoiding brownouts and outages.”

Silver Star also sees opportunity in Ammon, which has been building its own fiber network the past three or four years. Unlike Idaho Falls’ network, which dates back more than 10 years and is focused mainly on serving government and business, Ammon is stringing fiber to residences as well.

“People take rising levels of speed for granted,” McCue said. “In a way, it’s just like the old days. When they called Aunt Bessie in Denver, they didn’t really care how the call was routed.”