Michael Walch

Downtown Data – St. Louis Revived?

Posted in General Architecture, Network City by michaelwalch on 14 February, 2011

Another re-post from NY Times.  Read the article “Data Centers Offer Hope for St. Louis Office Market” about reviving downtown St. Louis through the rehab of historic warehouses and department stores as data centers.

This type of project could be the next wave to sweep American downtowns, following the rough outline of pre/early 20th century dense mixed development, through white flight/car culture, slum clearing  and the highways, and New Urbanism/lifestyle centers.  St. Louis is one example of many cities with historic building stock left vacant as manufacturing or light industrial spaces with large workforces left dense urban centers for large automated factories in the cheaper suburbs and rural parts of the country.  According to the NYT article, Unisys is looking at both the turn of the century department store building in the photo, as well as an old printing press warehouse, as sites for new data centers in St. Louis.  Both would have high ceilings, and the industrial building in particular would presumably have a structure well-suited to the data center use.  This presents some real benefits to the municipality – an occupied, modernized, and maintained building downtown, at least a handful of employees with both payroll tax and the usual shopping benefits.  These facilities also tend to consume huge amounts of energy, which can be another big source of tax revenue, but also a burden on a city’s infrastructure, let alone the obvious environmental costs of powering the “cloud.”  At a base level though, it’s one way to keep the lights on inside, even if very few people are ever “home,” in these buildings.

St. Louis has some geographic advantages as a data center site too, and each city would have to inventory these as they evaluate a data center project.  Remember when it was the hub of TWA?  It’s literally in the middle of the country.  More locally, the article mentions that they have an electric grid with excess capacity – another plus.  While a lot of data center development by companies like Unisys is located in close proximity to financial and technology firms, this article cites local government offices at the target client.

If this type of development takes off, what would its resultant network look like?

Here is the start of the US telecom network:

You can view independent networks’ maps in detail at this selection of USA Longhaul Network Maps.

Will it have any relationship to the US Interstate Highway system?

…and how will it connect to the world-wide fiber-cable network, or “TeleGeography” (map from Equinix, a major  data center developer).


The ‘Flash Crash’ of May 6th – Yes, it was a Single Algorithmic Sale

Posted in Economics, Network City by michaelwalch on 1 October, 2010

In my book for Kazys Varnelis’ Network Architecture course at Columbia GSAPP, I focused on the landscape of data centers, especially those with ties to high-frequency trading and stock exchanges, in the New York City area.  One catalyst for this research was the ‘Flash Crash’ of the afternoon of May 6th where the Dow lost 600 points in minutes, and then regained it nearly as quickly.  This was due to a huge volume of algorithmic trading, redoubling the demand for regulation of high-frequency traders, and undoubtedly catching an unaware public off-guard with a troubling display of uncertainty.  Normally high-frequency traders are interested in more volatile, cheaper stocks, but this sale had two really unusual aspects which caused the crash – first it was selling futures related to the S&P 500 index itself, and it also executed its huge sale – $4.1 billion – very quickly.  Even this huge sale might not have affected the market itself, but as all the other algorithmic traders (‘black boxes’) saw this sale, a cascade of automated sell orders started.

To call these agents ‘traders’ is a stretch – these are not people but computers, all connected through fiber-optic data lines directly to the exchanges – this network is what I spent time mapping for the Fiber Finance book.  These transactions are processed in microseconds without any real human involvement.  Interestingly, once the Dow started in a downward spiral, electronic trading was stopped.  Suddenly the shouting traders at the Stock Exchange floor on Wall Street took back the exchange, to slow it down.  The NYSE building in Lower Manhattan is always represented by frantic men shouting buy and sell orders but Fort Knox might be a more appropriate image to its function as a human slowdown machine.  The fast-acting trades are happening silently in Northern New Jersey.

Read the New York Times Article: A Single Sale Worth $4.1 Billion Led to the ‘Flash Crash’