The story behind Quantum Loophole
Big Interview

The story behind Quantum Loophole

Quantum Loophole

Capacity speaks to CEO Josh Snowhorn to understand how its master planned communities are taking the guess work out of adding data centre capacity

Headed up by CEO and data centre industry veteran Josh Snowhorn, Quantum Loophole has bought a 2,100 acre plot of land in Frederick County Maryland.

Crucially, Frederick Campus is located just over 20 miles from the Ashburn interconnection ecosystem, which Snowhorn describes as the heart of the internet in North America.

Since acquiring the land Quantum Loophole’s plan is to develop it for data centres to be built. It will provide four key building blocks required for data centres to be deployed, namely land, water, power and fibre.

Portions of the 2,100 acres will be sold on to data centre operators so they can build their facilities.

Quantum Loophole are also building QLoop, a 43 mile fibre loop that connects Frederick Campus with the Ashburn ecosystem.

At three and a half square miles and with a 10 mile perimeter, the campus is huge.

“This is by far the biggest project of its kind in the world,” Snowhorn proudly proclaims.

“We’ll have the most amount of power delivered to a single data centre campus in the world, we have the largest campus in the world and we’re taking enough energy to power an entire city. 

When Quantum Loophole went through its detailed load study process, it emerged there was between 2-2.5GW of power available to support data centres on the site.

“That meant that we had the scale to support millions of square feet of data centres on the campus,” Snowhorn says.

Where did the idea come from?

Snowhorn is no stranger to setting records when it comes to developing data centres.

 Early in his career he was hired by Terremark to build NAP of the Americas, a 750,000 square feet and 130MW data centre, that at the time was the largest in the world.

After leaving Terremark following an acquisition by Verizon, he moved on to Cincinnati Bell, and was part of the IPO team

for data centre business Cyrus One, where he led the telecoms team for six and a half years.

He left Cyrus One in April 2018 and set up Quantum Loophole just over a year later.

“Quantum Loophole was formed with a vision of doing something different and it came about from a tour I did years ago of the power plants in Eindhoven,” Snowhorn explains.

Snowhorn visited an area full of natural gas turbine plants, close to the sea which could provide water to cool them.

“I was really excited to go into the turbine plant, but I got inside and nothing was running!”

Snowhorn was told the three dormant 350MW turbines were acting as peakers, which only run when there is a surge in demand on the grid. “We were on the roof and they showed me a building next door,” he says. “They pointed to a Google data centre and another building next door that was about to be torn down.”

In fact, there was a lot of empty land, and the power company had no intention of expanding the powerplant because it wasn’t even turned on.

“A light bulb went off,” Snowhorn said. “I realised I could build data centres next to a power plant and that was the impetus for creating the business plan for Quantum Loophole”.

Snowhorn and his team didn’t want to build and operate data centres, they viewed that as something that was quickly becoming commoditised with low-cost capital and they didn’t want to compete with their hyperscaler customers.

But they formed Quantum Loophole and set up a site selection team to start putting their unique plan into action.

Buying Frederick Campus

“So the idea was, how do we do things bigger and better. How do we stay off grid? How do we create microgrids?”

While the initial vision did not completely materialise, Frederick Campus is pretty close.

Snowhorn found that power plants in the US tend not to have as much suitable land around them, and those that do were too far from internet exchanges from a latency perspective.

“There's a great supply business around supplying hyperscalers, but we just didn't want to get into that operational side,” he explains.

Instead, the company was focused on supplying four elements that made it easy for operators to build their own data centres: land, energy, water and fibre.

The search radius for the campus was within a 40 mile radius of Ashburn, primarily in the data centre hub of Northern Virginia.

While searching, the Maryland legislature passed tax incentives for data centres, which prompted Snowhorn’s team to get in touch with Frederick County Office of Economic Development (FCOED).

FCOED pointed them to a former Alcoa aluminium smelting plant.

“Aluminium smelting is a huge industrial process and takes massive amounts of electricity,” Snowhorn explains.

The site that was to become Frederick Campus already had significant energy infrastructure in place, and crucially had 1,500 acres zoned for industrial land.

Snowhorn knew that QLoop would be a big part of the project, and noted that a lot of fibre was already deployed in the immediate area as well. He formed a joint venture with TPG Real Estate Partners to raise the capital and made a successful bid with Alcoa.

What’s happened since?

Since closing on the land in June 2021, Quantum Loophole has begun developing Frederick Campus and building QLoop.

Aligned Data Centres and Rowan Group have already purchased land and Snowhorn says there is $500 million of contracts that are waiting to close, with clients including hyperscalers and multitenant providers.

New landowners have been delayed by a permitting issue Aligned faced with regards to its diesel backup generators,but Snowhorn expects that issue to be resolved in the first half of this year.

 In addition to the 1,500 acres of land that was already zoned for industrial deployment, Quantum Loophole is donating 500 acres to parkland and planting 60,000 trees on the property.

“We're building roads, sewage and water infrastructure, which doesn't sound very glamorous, but without sewage and potable and non-potable water, we wouldn't have data centres.”

Millions of gallons of treated sewage water run by the campus every day from the city of Frederick into the Potomac River.

The non-potable water will be captured by Quantum Loophole and used for cooling on the campus, removing the need to use safe to drink water that could otherwise serve local homes and businesses.

“We have to be careful controlling cycles of concentration, which means we treat the water after its second use at the campus and send it back afterwards,” Snowhorn says.

QLoop is under construction

“We’re trying to finish the Maryland side in spring or summer this year, and then we will start work on the Virginia side,” Snowhorn says.

 The 43 mile loop consists of 34 two inch ducts, and can hold over 235,000 strands of fibre.

The loop has to cross the Potomac River in Maryland twice, an undertaking that Snowhorn describes as the hardest thing he’s done in his career.

“We ended up going 90 feet below the bedrock of the Potomac using big boring machines. This is probably the last time this will ever happen, because the scale of what we’ve built will support fibre in the area for years to come”.

QLoop will not only serve the huge amount of capacity that Quantum Loophole’s campus will require, but as a spine that runs through rural areas will support broadband for the local population.

“There's eight or nine fibre providers around the campus today, but most of it is aerial and its certainly not at the scale

that hyperscalers need to link things back together,” Snowhorn explains.

Strands of the fibre will be available for local ISPs to acquire, which Snowhorn says will be a great benefit to rural Maryland and especially rural Virginia.

With the successful launch of the campus in Maryland, and more land partners expected to close soon, Quantum Loophole are expanding their model across the US and are actively looking for and bidding on new sites in Texas, Illinois and California to meet data centre demand.

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