Safe Harbor

Vermont’s first commercial-grade, carrier-neutral facility for Internet service providers

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

tech_vault_0715Steven P. Loyer is president of Tech Vault, the first commercial-grade, carrier-neutral facility for Internet service providers in Vermont, and its sister company, The Tech Group. Both are housed in a LEED Silver certified headquarters with redundant power, backup, and security systems.

Reigning over a courtyard at the center of the building that’s home to Tech Vault in South Burlington are two massive, 100-ton cooling towers. They are some of the key components of the company’s “in-row” cooling systems, which control temperatures for the LEED Silver certified, state-of-the-art data center — a commercial-grade, carrier-neutral facility for Internet service providers (ISPs).

Only one of those cooling towers operates at any one time; the second is the backup. Security and redundancy are everywhere in this facility; all critical systems are N+1 redundant (N+1 stands for “need plus 1”).

Although Tech Vault is in a shared building, it doesn’t share any systems, including power or cooling. “What we did was build a next-generation facility that utilizes redundant cooling power, UPS [uninterruptible power supply] battery backup, and an 800 kilowatt generator that supplies power in the event of an outage,” says Steven P. Loyer, president of Tech Vault and its sister company, The Tech Group.

A triple-level security system requires a card, biometrics (a finger print in this case), and a PIN (personal identification number) to gain entry. The outside perimeter of the facility is reinforced with iron mesh from floor to roof to prevent a security breach, and 34 cameras inside and outside record and store all activities to DVR systems for 90 days. A staffed control center monitors over 1,000 data points 24/7/365, including things like occupancy, temperature, cooling systems, humidity, and power consumption.

“This thing breathes,” says Loyer, referring to the facility. “It uses power, cooling, and lighting as it needs it, automatically, versus the older facilities, which were either full on or full off manually.”

The nature of Tech Vault’s business requires this level of security. In-house customers run the gamut of state and federal government, education, health care, banking, construction, and software industries and six Internet service providers that include Level 3, FairPoint, SoverNet, AT&T, Comcast Metro Ethernet, and FirstLight [formerly TelJet].

Loyer wouldn’t have his company anywhere but in South Burlington. A Burlington native, he moved there when he was in sixth grade and his mother remarried. He grew up in a blended family with a sister, two brothers, and three stepbrothers.

After graduating from South Burlington High School in 1976, he worked in the construction trades for several years, starting with his uncle, who owned Desautels Electric, then for several other contractors. He was just about ready to gain his journeyman’s license when he decided to pursue a degree at Vermont Technical College. He earned his associate in engineering/electrical and electronics engineering technology in 1984.

Loyer found work as a computer engineer with McAuliffe Office Products as one of the first employees in its newly formed computer division. “Back then we just had the dual-drive PCs and floppy disks, so I had the very, very, very good fortune of timing to kind of grow up with this industry.” He stayed with McAuliffe until 1992.

“There was a lot of change in the wind and I wasn’t certain of my future,” says Loyer. “I thought, ‘Well, what the heck, I can do this stuff myself.’ My brother Tom and I started a company called Computer Services of Vermont. We brought some of the people that worked with me.”

In 2001, he “stepped out for a couple of years,” he says, to join Jay Fayette, his friend since seventh grade and best friend since high school, to work in San Diego for a firm called Televator Corp.

Televator was a startup that was putting video screens in elevators to run advertising. “Steve was instrumental in helping us develop the hardware and software involved and get the wireless platform and hardware technology under control,” says Fayette, who’s now senior vice president at PC Construction. “We rained on Steve because he was a friend and had the IT background,” he says with a chuckle.

Loyer worked there from October 2001 to June 2002, was a stay-at-home dad for a while, and then, hoping to hone his math and financing skills, joined Homebound Mortgage, where he worked as a loan originator from 2003 to 2004 .

He then returned to Computer Services of Vermont with the thought of buying the company, which he and Fayette did, creating The Tech Group in 2006.

“My background is construction,” says Fayette, an investor and silent partner. “Steve came to me in 2005 and asked me to participate in buying out his other partners, so we worked about a year with a business broker. Steve and I re-formed Computer Services of Vermont, and became partners in Tech Group. I was silent, but helping to bring operations thinking to define how the company was going to operate.”

The Tech Group was launched in October of 2006. “We are a value-added reseller and a managed services provider,” says Loyer. “We design, procure, and build LANs [local area networks], WANs [wide area networks], and wireless networks.”

Along the way, in 2008-09, Loyer began to notice customers asking for data storage and disaster recovery, says Fayette. “Steve said, ‘We’ve got to accommodate this.’”

Research showed there was not a true, high-quality, commercial data center in Vermont. “What we learned,” Loyer says, “was there were a number of what were called ‘carrier-class facilities’ — data centers owned by ISPs — that were not built to be commercial data centers.” Tech Vault saw an opportunity to be the first such data center in Vermont. “You only get to be first once, and we wanted to be worthy of that effort,” Loyer says.

They toured data centers around the Northeast “and found out what the challenges were that kept these guys awake every night and what they would have done differently,” says Loyer. “What we learned was, it always came down to power and cooling: People were going to run out of power, and there was never enough cooling.”

The driving vision was to “maintain the Vermont brand, which was green. We knew we had to be LEED certified, and we achieved that in 2012. We wanted to make sure this place was a showcase.” They partnered with Efficiency Vermont in the planning stages and built what Loyer calls a “next-generation data center.”

Financing wasn’t easy to find. The partners had just started reaching out to banks when the fiscal cliff of 2008 hit, says Fayette. “We worked on it for about a year, and finally in the spring of 2010, after an exhaustive year of trying to get financing, we reached out to the owner of our building, Paul Sprayregen of ICV, for private financing. He liked it and we built Tech Vault.”

Growth has been steady, Loyer says. “In five years, we went from one to 86 racks. We can grow up to 800 racks. The Tech Group now employs 10 and Tech Vault, four.

“A little over four years in the business, and we are proud of what we’ve accomplished,” says Fayette. “I’m vice president, but I’m more a director instead of day-to-day. We meet every Sunday morning and typically one evening a week.”

Loyer lives in South Burlington with his wife, Mary. They met at VTC and celebrated their 25th anniversary in February. Their daughters, Kasey and Karly, are in college.

Community is important to Loyer, who spent seven years as an EMT with Colchester Rescue, a job he describes as “one of the most gratifying and personal confidence-building experiences I’ve ever had. You learn to be very calm in crucial situations. So when someone called me back in the day with their hair on fire because their printer didn’t work, and I had come from an emergency the night before, I could say, ‘We’re gonna make this work for ya.’”

Close to his heart are two causes. One, the Classic Mike Loyer Foundation, is named for his brother, who died three years ago following a construction accident. “Family and friends created this to assist families of people who lost their lives in construction accidents,” he says, referring to Chapter 9 of the Vermont Labor Code, which limits liability to burial and funeral expenses of a deceased employee to $5,500. “We also do random acts of kindness where we find families that might have a problem, no strings attached. We raised $150,000 over the past three years.”

His other cause is a group in South Burlington called Parents and Adults Celebrating Children and Teens (PACT), which he co-chairs with Susie Merrick. Merrick runs the South Burlington School District mentoring program and teaches online for Champlain College.

PACT was founded seven years ago when students at SBHS, working with counselors, held two dialogue nights, the result of two underage drinking accidents in the community, says Merrick. Subsequently they launched a red ribbon campaign for alcohol awareness month asking businesses to display statements in support of it, and Loyer was the first to call.

“I knew Mary, his wife, quite well,” Merrick says. “I was helping the kids deliver the red ribbons notice to Steve ... and out comes the head of the business to say hello to me. I went home and said to my husband, Ben, ‘I think I found the perfect co-chair for PACT.”

This desire to do the right thing in the best way seems to drive Loyer, and that includes the work building the data center. “You know, the wonderful thing about technology is it is always changing, but on the data center side, you’ve got the electronic health care initiative, and that data has got to come someplace like this. There’s a difference between leading edge and what we call bleeding edge: where you want to be and where you are.” •