Throughout most of the 20thcentury, the Sears Roebuck Company was one of America's premier retailers, offering consumers everything from clothing to household items to automotive care. In fact, Sears pioneered many aspects of retail marketing that are now standard practice today. However, by the turn-of-the-century a weak economy saw the struggling company looking at every alternative to keep its doors open, including merging with competing retailer Kmart.
Earlier this year they went one step further by forming Ubiquity Critical Environments. The new company's mission is to find ways to transform underperforming retail locations into 21st century technology enterprises.
Ubiquity's first major proposal is to convert a number of the Sears Auto Center stores into mission-critical data centres serving smaller markets. It is an idea born out of the realisation that secondary markets tend to be at the mercy of larger markets for data centre and IT services. The Sears locations offer a number of unique advantages that make them perfectly suited for such an enterprise.
The company originally looked at the possibility of converting underperforming Sears and Kmart stores, but then realised that most of those stores were close enough to established data centres to make the project financially unviable. The auto centre stores are a different matter.
Sears Holdings operates about 50 standalone auto centres located on the outer edges of mall property. The stores offer up to 50,000 ft² of floor space and ceilings at least 16 feet high. This would enable the company to move quickly by building modular units that could easily take advantage of current infrastructure and architecture. Moreover, because the sites are already approved for industrial or commercial use, Ubiquity could set up the data centres with very little government interference.
As for power and cooling needs, company officials say that should not be a problem either. Mall properties are typically on the receiving end of high power transmission lines already. Furthermore, many of the sites include stranded power not being put to use in any other way.
It should be noted that many of the auto centres already have a fairly impressive power capacity due to the installed automotive equipment. In some cases, very few modifications would be needed to accommodate the power and cooling needs of a data centre.
Should Ubiquity decide to go through with the plan, they will be collaborating with Schneider Electric; a company that is already an established leader in data centre equipment and services. They are the perfect partner for transforming this portfolio of nearly-ready properties into mission-critical data centres for small markets.
Undoubtedly, the data centre sector in America will be watching closely at what Ubiquity does here. The economic crash of 2007/2008 has left in its wake a much smaller retail sector and plenty of under-performing and under-utilised properties. A successful project from Ubiquity could pave the way for other struggling enterprises to pursue similar projects; and if enough companies got involved, they would drastically change the data centre landscape in the States.