Stopping the presses at the Chicago Sun Times led to the rise of a one-of-a-kind mission critical powerhouse on Chicago’s South Side. The 317,000-sq-ft legacy printing facility is now a robust colocation data center, featuring low latency, high reliability, and redundant infrastructure that swaps the written word for digital content — a real sign of the times.

The 29-acre site, fully re-imagined by international data center developer QTS and local MEP engineers Environmental Systems Design (ESD), is just one 24 MW data center currently under development in the Chicago area — a new hot bed for mission critical growth.

Thanks to a rich infrastructure identified in an early Data Center Development Services (DCDS) study by ESD Consulting, including existing robust underground communication and fiber, power and electrical service, and thick slabs and floors, no major utility upgrades or additional coordination was needed for data center deployment.

Taking advantage of the local climate with modular, dry KyotoWheel™ technology, QTS Chicago was built to achieve an annualized power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.17, while championing flexibility and innovative mechanical cooling solutions. Running a dry-type indirect economizer system, QTS Chicago is a good steward of the environment, not guzzling fresh water or discharging hardened water to the local watershed. At the core of the data center’s robust, efficient design are QTS’ three Cs: customization (C1), colocation (C2), and cloud management services (C3).



Ensuring availability with an eye on flexibility and energy efficiency. Infrastructure flexibility is key to achieving QTS’ C1, or customization, as it promotes continued growth by meeting the needs of a variety of colocation clients. The goal was to create an infrastructure backbone for QTS Chicago that would enable a fast deployment of customized space, power, cooling, and security configurations to accommodate N, N+1, 2N, and 2N+1 redundancy requirements.

The master plan for the 24 MW facility ensures customization with power distribution, rack location, and power to the racks. The electrical and cooling distribution is designed around 2 MW blocks to facilitate quick deliveries of customized data center space between 1 MW and 24 MW. Power at QTS Chicago is only distributed to the rack, cage, and cabinet once a client has dictated their custom specifications.

To provide the backbone for this flexibility, the team considered multiple mechanical and UPS systems and layouts, analyzing their efficiencies, first costs, and life cycle costs. Solutions included modular and scalable UPS systems and a unique mechanical system that recirculates the air to ensure less exposure to outside elements.

The cool Chicago climate worked in the data center’s favor as it allowed the team to specify waterless mechanical cooling equipment that capitalized on outdoor, ambient conditions, while maintaining stability on the critical air distribution side. Using indirect evaporative air handlers rather than a chilled water plant will enable the data center to scale up and down as clients move in and out. This system requires a smaller upfront infrastructure investment and eliminates the traditional single point of failure, allowing for simpler building automation. Other efficient features include: variable-frequency drives (VFDs), hot aisle/cold aisle airflow management, blanking panels in all environments, Energy Star® certified appliances, and time and motion sensors.

The data center uses the KyotoWheel mechanical system/indirect economizer that recirculates air to ensure less exposure to the outside elements. Unique for its ability to both provide the benefit of the local climate and ambient conditions while maintaining isolation from outdoor air contamination and hourly weather fluctuation, the KyotoWheel is equipped with refrigerant-based cooling conditions and is a key element to QTS Chicago’s efficiency.

To ensure C1 customization and flexibility, contractors built out ample room for one KyotoWheel to support each colocation space. As the colocation data center spaces fill out, the KyotoWheel is built into their infrastructure support for plug and play capabilities, able to be deployed rapidly.

Together, these initiatives were key to achieving the annualized PUE of 1.17.



Modeling proved critical to maximizing outcomes. ESD produced a DCDS study for the Sun Times building after it closed its doors in 2013 that was aimed at identifying a new technical program for the building, including detailed construction capital expenses (CAPEX), operating expenses (OPEX), and Performa. At that time, QTS recognized the unique opportunity presented by the facility’s inherently rich infrastructure that made it move-in ready and large enough to house a myriad of international colocation clients — representing QTS’ C2.

During the design phase, load calculation modeling was utilized to slice and dice the data hall into potential colocation spaces, create office and administrative spaces and hallways, re-clad the building to make it more energy efficient, and build windows into executive offices and other back-of-house spaces that were required to showcase the facility, making accommodations for hard ceilings and special lighting as needed. 

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling helped determine how much critical load would fit into the raised floor data hall, verifying that the air delivery systems could be designed and deployed to meet volume demands. The CFD modeling helped inform supply air fan updates and modifications of supply and return air transfer openings as well as perforated floor tile layouts.

Designs were conducted in 3-D Revit to assist coordination between trades, and more specifically, to model exterior space constraints, including the specification of mechanical equipment at the building’s exterior.



The critical security, management, and disaster recovery capabilities. Located downtown in the middle of the central business district, QTS Chicago provides favorable connectivity with low latency — all in a carrier-neutral facility. Together with QTS’s unique cloud services that allow for enterprise and federal cloud options, the internet backbone provides high-speed access supporting a myriad of cloud requirements. 

QTS Cloud services range from a dedicated, compliant, private cloud with very specific performance and security requirements to multi-tenant cloud products that are highly flexible. Cloud options are deployed in a hybrid model blending traditional colocation, dedicated (private), and multi-tenant.

The supporting MEP infrastructure at QTS Chicago is also designed to offer disaster recovery services with innovative, cloud-based, enterprise-class replication solutions to meet the needs of today's hybrid IT infrastructure.



QTS Chicago is a flexible and efficient space that brings QTS’ three Cs — customization (C1), colocation (C2), and cloud management services (C3) — to life. Thanks to a short 10-day average deployment for general colocation and cloud management services, and between 30 and 60 days for custom deployment, the facility is ready for tomorrow, today. A truly flexible facility also allows for future growth. QTS Chicago features provisions for another 138 kV to 12 kV on-site substation once the initial facility is filled to capacity.

A true example of the golden opportunity that exists to take an infrastructure rich facility and repurpose it as a sought after mission critical facility, the Chicago Sun Timesbuilding is making headlines once again, but this time as the next generation of data center space.