A data center may conjure up images of an intricate room with racks of telecommunication equipment, storage systems, wires and environmental controls. But it could also be a simple, unsuspecting closet with an electrical panel and a single server.
 
In Boise, Idaho, the latter is the case for about nine of the City's 13 data centers. These data centers are located in city facilities like the airport, remote offices and libraries. By mid-2013, these data centers will be consolidated into just three locations — City Hall, City Hall West and the Boise Airport. The remaining remote locations will be able to access the central data centers and share files with increased speed and efficiency, due to a telecommunications upgrade. 
 
Connected to each of the city’s 13 core facilities is dark fiber. In contrast to lit fiber, the City of Boise purchased raw, dark fiber from a telecommunications supplier — Zayo Group — and the municipality is responsible for “lighting” the raw strands of fiber to create a fast optical network.
 
Rather than subscribing to a service from a local telecommunications company, dark fiber allows the City of Boise access to strands of fiber optic cable between city buildings. In-house network engineers can choose the gear that is used to light the network, while maintaining complete control of protocol, platform and bandwidth, for improved flexibility.
 
Fran Cantwell, an IT project manager for Boise’s Parks and Recreation Department, said that she noticed an immediate improvement using the City’s online mapping system. 
 
“Before, staff would wait for the system to slowly paint the screen,” Cantwell said. “After the dark fiber implementation, the maps load almost instantly. This greatly increased the efficiency of teams like Community Forestry, who refer to the maps and aerial photos daily.”
 
The project, launched in June, took about four months to complete. Some city departments have reported a 3,000 percent increase in speed, according to Adam Reno, a Boise IT infrastructure services manager. Transmitting a 30-minute video once took two hours, but can now occur in as little as two minutes.
 
The City of Boise leased 52 miles of dark fiber from Zayo for just over $500,000. If the City were to configure and operate a similar optical fiber network itself, it would have cost an estimated $6 million.
 
“Leasing dark fiber ensures that the City is always connected at the fastest speeds possible,” Reno said, adding that any necessary maintenance is handled by their vendor. “We don’t have to repair the fiber strands when they break. That’s up to our fiber provider," he said.
 
The City has already begun leveraging this new dark fiber to consolidate remote data centers. Boise’s CIO Garry Beaty said that the City has been looking at connecting its facilities with high-speed communications technology for a number of years. 
 
“This finally became reality this past year and has proven very beneficial for many of the remote sites,” he said. “This ground work is the foundation of a clear vision to do disaster recovery, data redundancy and failover of processing for the next 15 to 20 years.”

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Jessica Renee Napier  |  Contributing Writer

Jessica Renee Napier is a California-based writer who began her journalism career in public broadcasting. She teaches yoga, enjoys traveling and likes to stay up on all things tech.