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Technology Underground

IF Louisville becomes the next Silcon Valley, it will be due to some very humble beginnings. "We wrote out a business concept on a napkin over lunch at a local Frisch's Big Boy in about 30 minutes," said Mark Roy, president, founder and chairman of e-Cavern, an underground technology park in Louisville. "And four months later I incorporated e-Cavern."

Roy believes he can make Louisville a destination for secure data storage by tapping one of its natural distinctives: caves. Actually, one cave in particular - a huge one, nearly three million square feet.

The cave is intended to provide security for critical computer infrastructure and data, particularly servers where sensitive information must kept safe from terrorist attacks and natural disasters. The cave can be built-out to suit a variety of needs, including traditional office space, computer storage and vehicle warehousing.

The e-Cavern project started in the mid-1990s, as Roy researched data storage locations for his employers in the banking industry, which needed secure facilities for online transaction data during the Internet boom. Turns out the perfect facility was underground.

"I was going around the country looking at a variety of these facilities," Roy said. "And lo-and-behold, fight in our backyard, I ran into the owners and operators of this underground."
The cave sits about 76 feet below metro Louisville, right underneath I-264.

"Looking at this project, I wanted to duplicate the efforts of Silcon Valley," Roy said. "So I pursued a strategy for a public/private partnership that would bring in federal government agencies, bring in research universities and bring in private sector partners."

That's exactly what Roy has done. Early on, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky began conducting research related to the e-Cavern project many hurdles would need to be conquered, including mirroring data from such a long distance. Generally data is mirrored, or backed up, on servers within 100 miles of the original server, due to limitations of fiber optic cable. But the e-Cavern project increases the distance from originating server to mirror by tenfold, providing added security but adding technical challenges.

But, with UofL, UK, Cisco and IBM on board, Roy was off to a good start.
UK and UofL are handling different aspects of the project. UofL is looking at the effectiveness of different encryptions and how they affect performance. UK is handling creating the necessary networking for the project, including dealing with the distance increase.

As the research progresses, e-Cavern is pursuing companies that would have a need for the high-tech, ultra-secure facilities, including more government agencies. While the eCavern LLC offices are already located in the underground, no other tenants will move in until 2008. e-Cavern will first build out an initial 50,000 square feet - out of the 3 million available - designated for one or two anchor tenants, he said, which the company is actively pursuing. Those anchor tenants will provide the necessary funding to get all the infrastructure in place, including HVAC, telecom and power. Designs for that infrastructure will be completed in early 2007, Roy said, and e-Cavern will pursue additional tenants simultaneously. With the anchor tenants in place, e-Cavern plans to lease spaces as small as 10,000 square feet, which can usually be built out in 120 days.

The cavern has a 26-foot limestone ceiling under 50 feet of earth, maintains a constant 56-degree temperature and only has one entrance. It can withstand a direct hit from a 747 or an F5 tornado, according to e-Cavern marketing materials, making it a perfect place for control centers.