Not far from the parking lot where the boys from 10 Barrel play whiffle ball on sunny days, a newly remodeled, unmarked building is cooling down in the high desert air. It is Central Oregon’s latest data farm, and from the parking lot it doesn’t look like much. You can’t see the solar panels from here, the Dutch-designed low-energy cooling system, the cylindrical “man-trap” portal that allows a visitor to enter the facility only after displaying the correct biometric information.
Leonard Weitman, BendBroadband’s vice president of technical operations, meets me by the entrance, where smooth jazz is piping into a lobby with bright white floors. Weitman joined BendBroadband in March 2010 and directed a $16 million remodel of a former warehouse into a secure center for storing confidential data. The building is called the Vault, and while it is nowhere near as large as the new Facebook data center 35 miles away in Prineville, it represents a new opportunity for Central Oregon in general and BendBroadband in particular. The company added 50 jobs over the past year to grow from the 29th-largest to the 19th-largest business in Central Oregon.
As a “co-location” facility the Vault can serve hospitals, financial institutions and telecommunications companies from Los Angeles to Vancouver, B.C., storing data in an area with minimal seismic risks. “It’s a growing business, and not many of these facilities are considered environmentally friendly,” says Weitman.
As he leads me through a facility packed with security cameras and elaborate power redundancy systems, Weitman says BendBroadband pursued a strategy similar to that of Intel: invest during the downturn to put the company in a stronger position for recovery. The company needed a new operations center anyhow, so combining that upgrade with a foray into a new business made sense. The “green” nature of the facility helps it stand out, and also supports a growing sector in Oregon. The solar panels were built in Hillsboro by SolarWorld, installed by Bend-based Sunlight Solar, and run through invertors made just a few blocks away from the Vault by Advanced Energy Systems (formerly PV-Powered).
Weitman says the plan is to expand the center once the completed portion is 60% full. BendBroadband also owns an adjacent property for future development.
A few miles away in the Northwest hills, the world headquarters of another Bend-based technology company, Proxense, shares little in common with the Vault. Founder John Giobbi works from a home office with some computers and a phone, a big window facing out on the valley and a flight simulator for honing his piloting skills.
Giobbi came to Bend from Chicago, where he worked for a large corporation that did very well. “I was in a position where we could live where we wanted to,” he says. “I wanted to get out of Chicago. And I love it here in Bend.” He bought a home with a view in 2001 and started planning his next career move. The Napster phenomenon of consumers pilfering content online, upending the music industry, caught his attention, and he decided to pursue a technological solution involving a wireless device able to grant — or block — a computer user’s access to protected content.
The more he thought about the concept, the more he liked it. He decided to take a long-term approach. “I spent four and a half years filing patents,” he says. Once he had compiled a “good portfolio of patents,” he licensed the technology to the gambling giant Bally in Las Vegas. That deal brought in revenue that enabled him to hire top talent. After a national search he selected David Brown, a senior chief engineer from XM radio who had just finished creating a global satellite radio system. Giobbi hired away some of the top engineers from XM and set them up in South Florida, near XM headquarters, flying from Oregon to Florida quarterly to check in on their progress.
While his team was building the technology in Florida, Giobbi was raising money in Bend. He started with hospitals. Doctors and nurses log in and out of computers hundreds of times daily to protect patient information, and eliminating that monotonous step through automation was an obvious time-saver that Giobbi was convinced would sell itself. Much of the $8.5 million he raised in addition to $1.5 million of his own money came from Bend-area physicians. “Raising money in 2008, 2009 and 2010 was not a fun thing,” he says. “But we did it. We closed the round.”
Now the business is on the cusp. Most of Proxense’s 35 jobs are located in Florida, but Giobbi says he plans to establish headquarters in Bend to grow the company to about 100 jobs over the coming year. He says he’s already exploring possible applications in retail and finance, including a new type of credit card.