BRUNSWICK — There’s one nice thing about putting a data center in Maine: come winter, the harsh cold is an easy way to keep servers cool.

That’s a key part of the $6 million expansion unveiled Wednesday in a 52,000-square-foot former Navy communications center at Brunswick Landing, the civilian redevelopment effort underway at the former site of Brunswick Naval Air Station, which was decommissioned in 2011.

The official opening of the 7,000-square-foot data center expansion represents part of a long transition for the Lewiston-based Oxford Networks, which was founded as a telephone provider in 1900.

“My predecessor said that if we don’t change, we’re going to be in trouble because traditional telecoms aren’t doing well,” said Oxford Networks CEO Craig Gunderson, who started with the company in 2003.

The transition has been difficult at times, particularly through the Great Recession, which Gunderson said “really impacted the company financially where we really needed capital to grow.” The company first ventured into the data center business in 2012, with its acquisition of startup Resilient Tier-V Corp. and Norton Lamb & Co.

The Canadian private equity firm Novacap, which manages about $1.2 billion and has investments in similar data centers and telecommunications companies with fiber-optic networks, reached a deal to buy Oxford Networks for about $50 million in January and closed on the purchase in June.

“We’re excited about utilizing this data center, our fiber networks and their capital,” Gunderson said. “We see great opportunities in front of us to really do wonderful things for the state of Maine.”

Gunderson played host Wednesday to a group of local and state political officials, including Gov. Paul LePage, who hailed the new data center as an “economic engine” and praised the foreign investment that moved it forward. Joe Picoraro, a construction project executive with PC Construction, said the project employed 37 subcontractors, 34 of whom are based in the state.

For the data center, the 120-employee Oxford Networks is targeting a market for small- and medium-sized businesses looking to rid themselves of some of their on-site computer hardware, either by moving their own equipment to Oxford Networks’ data center or moving fully to “the cloud.”

Making that move changes the concept of computing from owning a batch of hardware called a computer to thinking of computing power as a service that you buy depending on how much computing power you use.

“IT as a service is the future,” said Oxford Networks Chief Technology Officer Ron Shink. “If you buy a server, you buy finite resources you might not fully consume. And in our case, you buy the resource that you’re consuming, and you can scale that up or scale that down.”

Shink said the data center has more than 60 customers of various sizes, a base that it built on about 1,200 square feet of computing space. The expansion adds 7,000 square feet with additional potential for expansions on site.

Mitch Davis, chief technology officer for Bowdoin College, said the college decided to shift some of its computing needs to the nearby Oxford Networks data center after deciding against building its own data center at the former Navy base because of the cost. Davis said the college is operating in a “private cloud,” meaning that it’s located its own hardware on-site at Oxford Networks’ facility rather than sharing physical resources with other clients on the same servers, or the public cloud.

Davis said the company’s partnership with Novacap also gives Bowdoin access to the investment firm’s other data centers, such as one it owns in Florida.

That’s a move Shink said he expects other companies to make as a baby step to a full move onto shared computing resources.

“We now have the ability to bring customers’ equipment here, manage it, take care of it for them and take it to a safe place and get that worry off their shoulders,” Shink said. “As that ages out, we can help them transition to the cloud.”

The building itself also presented a unique opportunity, as it was originally built as a highly secure communications center for the Brunswick Naval Air Station, a location that allows the data center to build in levels of redundancy for systems including its power supply. The former base has its own power grid, providing a second connection for the data center that also is connected to Central Maine Power’s distribution system and backup generation units.

“We built the most redundant power system that we could build,” Shink said. “So we’re very confident in it.”

Francois Laflamme, a senior partner with Novacap, said that the expansion project was a part of his company’s “investment thesis” for Oxford Networks. He expects the company to target a mix of local, regional and national businesses, depending on customer needs.

“It will take a couple years to build it up and then think about expansion,” Laflamme said. “Having said this, everything has been planned and built around expansion as well. We can double the power and double the air cooling that we have, and we can build out more of the space.”

Gunderson said the company has eight IT positions open and may seek more employees as it builds a broader customer base for the expanded data center.


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