10 innovators changing the game for Internet infrastructure

The Superhero: Rob Roy, CEO and Founder of Switch

by Derrick Harris

By all accounts, there’s not much you need to know about Switch Communications founder and CEO Rob Roy that this picture doesn’t cover:

That’s Roy’s superhero persona, Core (many of the employees at Switch have their own superhero identities, although they’re all not attached to their corporate bios). Roy also has a full-size Terminator in his office and recently built a Battlestar Galactica-inspired conference room to host events featuring some of the biggest names in the IT world. As the few press interviews Roy has done make perfectly clear, the man likes science fiction and superheroes.

In the data center space, he might actually be something of a superhero. Because not only is Roy Switch’s founder, chairman and CEO, he’s also the company’s chief R&D architect. According to Switch, Roy “has submitted and received 127 patents associated with the SuperNAP data center, with 42 of them already approved.” If you’ve toured Roy’s crowning achievement — the aptly named SuperNAP data center in Las Vegas — it’s hard not to be impressed with what he has built.

We covered many of the key aspects of the data center last year — its 407,000 square feet, specially designed HVAC system (which delivers an impressive 1.25 PUE rating), status as a network hub for 25 providers and beyond-military-grade security. But one major specification is already changing: its size. Work is under way to turn the SuperNAP into the world’s largest data center campus, totaling 2.2 million square feet of data center space. The SuperNAP already hosts some very significant infrastructure, including a 1,008-node Hadoop cluster for eBay (s ebay), a 1,000-node Hadoop testbed for EMC (s emc) and VMware’s (s vmw) Cloud Foundry service, as well as numerous cloud computing providers including Joyent and CloudSigma.

That kind of clout and sheer size is now making Roy a major player in Nevada’s attempts to revitalize its struggling economy. He’s the chair of Governor Brian Sandoval’s Economic Development Board, in part because Switch has the means to bring a lot of jobs to the state. Jason Mendenhall, Switch’s EVP of cloud computing, told me recently that about 4,000 workers from companies that host at Switch spend time working on-premise and about half come in from out of state. As the data center brings in more customers, it will bring in more workers, too.

Switch is also spearheading a number of efforts to invest in Nevada technology companies and education. Among those efforts is a venture capital fund that reportedly has raised over $200 million already. Switch is working with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and various other partners to develop a cloud computing center of excellence that will help UNLV churn out graduates capable of writing applications for and managing cloud computing infrastructure. It’s working on a super-connected office building called the InNEVation Center.

Switch might not be the world’s largest data center operator, but it will soon operate the world’s largest data center. As far as commercially available data centers go, it probably operates the best. That’s makes Roy a very important figure in a very important business. But if he (along with Las Vegas’ other tech-industry star, Zappos’ (s amzn) Tony Shieh) can actually reshape Las Vegas into a 21st-century technology hub — and revitalize an entire state economy in the process — Roy might actually be able to call himself a superhero.