Savage Visits LAN Down Under


    GRAND RAPIDS — You could say Bob Savage works in the LAN down under.

    Savage, vice president of IT and product development for Underground Secure Data Center Operations (USDCO), said he has always been in this line of work and plans on staying “underground.”

    Savage has been holding down technology positions for the past 22 years and said he began writing code in the ’60s when he was 12 years old. “Our computer club had three students and a remote terminal connected to the local community college’s mainframe,” said Savage. “Back then our computer didn’t have a screen, output was written to scrolling paper and programs were stored on a one-inch tape with holes punched in it. Technology sure has come a long way since then.”

    Since that start he has been working in technology positions for mainly large international corporations. Eight years ago his big break came when he was hired at Steelcase and was provided with unlimited professional and technical growth, plus the opportunity to work with others of the highest caliber in the same field.

    USDCO leases space in its data center for other businesses to store computer equipment. The difference between this company and a warehouse storage facility is that USDCO is underground in an inactive gypsum mine in Wyoming. The company, created just over 90 days ago, already has sold more than $1 million worth of contracts for long-term business.

    Born out of the dot-com craze, Savage said the company sells Internet access to its customers in its underground secure facility and to businesses in West Michigan. It also resells hardware, software and services through its strategic alliance partners.

    Analysts International, Sequoia Services Division, a company with more than 500 certified technical staff and hundreds of sales people in the Midwest, is USDCO’s largest alliance partner. Sequoia was the international Microsoft Partner of the Year in 1998.

    Together, the companies provide a broad range of products and services with a focus on new products relating to disaster recovery and business continuance.

    The mine, active from 1903 to 1947, was mined with the use of dynamite by workers who would then load ore on to horse-drawn carriages. It was then pulled up vertical shafts. After the mines had been inactive for quite awhile Ron Kragt bought the space and turned it into food storage. Because of the food storage business the mine already was equipped with elevators and stairwells. Some food is still kept there today.

    “Some of the rock in there is 220 million years old,” Savage said. The 750,000-square-foot facility is unique in that it is able to take advantage of the 50-degree constant temperature, therefore saving on electricity and saving money for clients. And with a 92 percent close ratio, clients are seeing the advantages of the mine.

    “There are three things I see setting us above the competition, and three things we are focusing on — scalability, telecommunications and business model,” Savage explained.

    With great scalability USDCO is able to grow and change over time, depending on customer needs. For example, the company is able to scale with growing business demands over time by providing the space, bandwidth, products and services on an as-needed basis. Customers can get what they need when they need it but pay only for what they use.

    In regard to computers, the computers can add more or faster processors, disk capacity or memory.

    With so many companies’ computer systems relying on USDCO to provide service, a crash or even an hour of repair time is often not possible. In order to combat this problem, the company’s telecommunications department has created four fiber rings, which are connected to Ameritech offices.

    The rings are run in all different places and conditions — underground and above ground — so, for example, if there is an earthquake and the line that is run above ground is unable to work, the connection is rerouted to another line.

    “This gives us virtually no down time,” Savage said. “We are protected against any scenario we have envisioned so far. However, this is not the only way we are going to be successful in this industry. You can never truly succeed without a well-thought business plan.”

    Savage explained that in his opinion faulty business plans were the reason behind the fall of numerous dot-com companies. However, the six founding partners of USDCO made sure a stable and secure business plan, ready for anything, was in place before the opening about three months ago.

    “We have people in place who have experience in this arena and know how to plan for the present as well as the future,” said Savage, “and that is what I think is important.”

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