Steel ORCA, based in Newtown, Bucks County, says it's starting work Wednesday on a $650 million commercial data center at a former Pfizer plant in Monmouth Junction, Middlesex County (NJ).  Construction manager is Gilbane Co., through its Philadelphia and New Brunsick offices.

The center is 40 miles from both Philadelphia and New York, where data can be shipped by phone- and cable-fiber-based connections "in less than a millisecond," fast enough to attract financial, Internet service and factory users, says Dave Crocker, Steel ORCA's chief executive and chairman. "We're a carrier hotel; all the major (Internet) suppliers have fiber through here." He says "hundreds" will work at the site once it's built out. The company had previously been leaning toward a Fairless Hills site (as Tom Paine of PhillyTechNews reminds me). (More on that below, see UPDATE).

Tyco and Dell Computer provide physical and data security, respectively. Villanova University scholar Alfonso Ortega heads a National Science Foundation-backed energy-efficiency project, based at the center, which will focus on ways to recycle heat and power, since "data centers consume 2% of the world's electricity," which is a lot, says Crocker.

Privately-held Steel ORCA, backed by 75 investors, is led by Crocker, a Holland, Bucks County software developer who formerly headed Octopus Technologies (clients included Microsoft Windows; Octopus' intellectual property is now part of EMC); CFO Paul Tufano CPA (he used to practice in Texas); and COO Dennis Cronin, a veteran data center builder active in the 7x24 Exchange, a data-center industry group.

The plant is located on a 45 megawatt power grid and will include backup solar, solid-oxide fuel cell, battery and other power sources. I asked Crocker if the plant was near a rail line and a natural gas supply, two of the purported selling points of the proposed Wolf Technology Center data center at the ex-Chrysler plant site by the University of Delaware in Newark Del. No, Crocker told me: A lot of data clients want to be far from rail-line vibrations, and gas lines require special protection against potential explosions, he said.

What's with the Steel ORCA name? "A lot of the original locations we were looking at were ex-steel mills, and Orca sounds good in the popular culture; we say it  stands for Ownership Responsibility Committment Action," says ceo Crocker.

UPDATE: I asked Crocker why Steel ORCA went ahead with the NJ site instead of the Bucks site previously advertised, and whether NJ subsidies played any role. Not becaues of rival state subsidies, he told me: Crocker says New Jersey isn't giving any. He went on to explain:

"We did not select a site on the basis of financial convenience or subsidy. The Steel ORCA Princeton site was selected based metrics that support operational efficiencies, security, safety and other pragmatic considerations that will insure operational success. This is what makes a data center successful. Subsidies were not a consideration in the selection of our site in New Jersey.

"Key site selection components for Steel ORCA have always been:
1. Availability of large quantities of affordable power.
2. Natural gas resources for auto power generation.
3. Availability of multiple local fiber trunks and willing fiber partners.
4. Premium corporate neighborhood with willing, invested, real estate partners
5. Low latency communication to New York and Philadelphia.
6. Insulation from natural disasters i.e. wind, flood, storm.
7. World class technology partners willing to invest time money and energy into the success of the project .
8. Strong demand for all of our planned data center lines of business.
"All of these are reasons that our Princeton facility was selected over all other sites evaluated.

"We do have other sites under evaluation in S.E. Pennsylvania that may be developed in addition to the Princeton site. These sites will have to survive the same analytics."