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Location Factors for Data Centers

Data centers are booming in locations where power is cheap and hazards are few.

Aug/Sep 09
Niagara Power Project hydroelectric plant on the Niagara River in Lewiston, N.Y.
Niagara Power Project hydroelectric plant on the Niagara River in Lewiston, N.Y.
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Green Data Centers
As the new Yahoo! project in New York illustrates, environmental concerns are of increasing importance. The company regularly buys carbon offsets to reduce its carbon footprint, but has recently said it would prefer to simply become carbon-neutral in its facilities. The new data center is a big step toward achieving that goal. For one thing, outside air will be used to cool the servers at all times - the company describes the design as being sort of like a chicken coop to allow for this green advance. And, of course, the hydro power is carbon-free.

Others in the industry are moving in a similar direction. Google has said it is seeking to increase energy efficiency in its data centers, and Microsoft is touting the efficiency of its data centers that recently opened in Chicago and Dublin, Ireland. The facilities employ what Microsoft calls "outside air economization" to help cool the servers.

"We're working with a client now that has an objective to be as green a data center as they can be," says Turner. Among other things, that means applying LEED standards wherever possible, such as making the most of daylight in office areas; Turner points out that there is a draft LEED standard for data center efficiency. Cooling is part of the picture, but so is making the servers themselves as efficient as possible. Companies would be asking for trouble if they pushed their servers too close to capacity, but in some cases it might be possible to reduce the instances where servers sit nearly idle. "With a group of servers, if you can take 5 percent utilization and make it 20 percent, you can reduce your energy consumption," he says.

Becoming more green is important for a number of reasons, says Southworth: "There's a growing concern about carbon taxes. A site may offer cheap coal power today, but just how cheap it will be tomorrow is up in the air, with environmental legislation and regulation a possibility." And, of course, there are the image reasons for building carbon-neutral facilities. "That's going to be viewed by shareholders and good corporate citizens as a plus," he says.

Communities Eager for Data Centers
Kucharski couldn't be happier about landing the Yahoo! data center in his New York territory. But what's the big deal about these facilities? It's not like they offer hundreds of manufacturing jobs.

"It's not a job-intensive industry," says Southworth, "but there are jobs. Are these half-million-dollar positions? No, but they will be mostly in excess of the average income in a given area. It does create some jobs, and they're going to be by and large better paying."

Then there are the construction jobs. "These are very intensive, expensive construction projects. There's a lot of basic construction that will employ local people," he says. "[Data centers] may not produce as many jobs, but they generate a fair amount of taxes. When you have a fully built-out data center, you could easily put in computer equipment and servers worth $100 million. That's going to be personal property and subject to local taxes."

A 100,000-square-foot data center will cost significantly more than a 100,00-square-foot warehouse, according to Turner, and that's great for the tax base. "That increase in the property tax base comes with very few demands," he says. "Parks, schools, traffic will all have very minimal impact."

The city of Longview, Texas, is actively working to attract data centers with the approval of a $10.5 million bond issue for improvements to a local business park. The money will be used to improve infrastructure, including electricity, to the area. Local officials say the park is 30 percent complete and should be ready in early 2010.

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