Notable Data Center Builds and Expansions

May 1, 2012 6 Comments »
Notable Data Center Builds and Expansions

With IT services becoming increasingly important, data center construction and expansion is a regular fixture in the news headlines. Although covering each new facility or upgrade would be virtually impossible, some projects are noteworthy for their size, scope or other unique characteristic. Here are a few recent examples, along with a look at some projects currently under way or that will likely be hitting the headlines soon.

NSA’s Utah Data Center

Currently under construction in Bluffdale, Utah (near Salt Lake City), is a gargantuan data center that will house a large chunk of the NSA’s computing power. The U.S. domestic spying agency is expected to complete its $2 billion facility in September 2013, according to Wired (“The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)”). All told, the facility will cover one million square feet and will consume an estimated 65 megawatts of power. In addition, it will be able to pump as much as 1.7 million gallons of water per day.

Perhaps no organization is more fun to pick on than the U.S. government, and in particular, spy agencies. Many Facebook users regularly gripe about that company’s privacy policy, but they seem to say little about a data center designed to spy on their every digital move. What’s worse, really? Facebook leaking information to some company that might send you a targeted solicitation for some product or service that you don’t want, or a government looking through all your personal data in an attempt to determine if you count as an “enemy combatant” to be stripped of all legal rights? Whatever your view on that matter, the NSA’s mega data center is a notable project worth keeping an eye on—after all, it’ll be keeping an eye on you.

Apple’s Maiden, NC, Project

A less nefarious facility (unless you ask Greenpeace, maybe) is Apple’s new data center in Maiden, NC. The company has planned for a budget of $1 billion over the next 10 years according to Wired (“Wired Scores Exclusive Aerial Photos of Apple’s ‘Area i51’”), and it’s not finished tweaking its 500,000-square-foot data center. In addition to the data center (an estimated cost of around half a billion dollars), Apple is also building a fuel cell plant and a solar farm designed to help power the facility. Like some other data centers, the company is hoping to reduce its energy bill by harvesting its own energy; this site may prove to be something of a test case for whether power generated on site is realistic from a return-on-investment perspective. Time will tell whether Apple’s cloud data center is a proof or disproof of the concept of local alternative energy sources being economically feasible.

Prineville, Oregon: Data Center Capital of the U.S.?

Maybe not. But it is the site of the notable Facebook data center build. The social networking giant already has one 300,000-square-foot data center running at its Prineville site (at a construction cost of about $210 million), and it is currently building another facility at the same site—in addition to possibly planning a third. Also helping to put Prineville on the map is another Apple data center, which will cost an estimated $250 million. A third company may also soon reveal construction of a data center, creating an interesting change of fortune for the previously little-known region. These facilities illustrate a growing trend toward data center construction in remote areas that provide climate advantages (for free-cooling purposes) and government tax incentives. Prineville may not rival major cities in absolute data center presence, but if you’ve heard of this location, it’s probably been in the context of data centers.

Google Iowa

In Council Bluffs, IA, Google is adding to its existing installation with another data center project estimated at $300 million, totaling $900 million invested in that area. New facilities in the hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars range are becoming less than spectacular, but what sets this project apart is a potential satellite antenna farm “to support a TV service that would be carried over its Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) network,” according to FierceTelecom (“Google to spend $300M to expand Iowa data center”). The company is taking advantage of tax incentives in this effort. But (obviously) that’s not all for Google.

Google Asia

Many companies see Asia as the economic powerhouse of the future, and Google is not to be left behind. The company is spending $300 million to build its third Asian data center—this time in Taiwan—summing to a total of more than $700 million when including Google’s data centers under construction in Hong Kong and Singapore, according to ZDNet (“Google starts construction of Taiwan data center”). The vastly different culture and government regulations hamper such efforts in Asia, but the opportunities afforded by the emerging economies in that region—especially in light of flagging western economies that have yet to resolve their debt and other difficulties—are too good for companies like Google to pass up. The search engine giant may meet stiffer competition for local markets, but it is betting heavily that investment in Asia will pay off.

Battle for $1.2 Billion: Iowa Versus Nebraska (“Cities’ efforts could secure data center”) reports that the two midwestern states are struggling to win a data center project totaling around $1.2 billion. The company planning the facility has yet to be named, but it is no doubt waiting for the best bid (in tax incentives and infrastructure resources) before making its decision. Many local governments, in an effort to increase revenue in the face of crushing debt loads, are looking to tech companies as a means of bringing in money through their data centers. To these localities, tax and other incentives are a small price to pay for the income these facilities would generate, as well as the jobs and development they bring.

Too Much to Cover in Detail

An increasingly information-based economy requires ever expanding IT infrastructure to provide the services that users (companies and consumers) demand. As such, the above list is only a small sample of recent and upcoming data center builds and expansions. The benefits of the cloud (many of which revolve around the lack of required capital investment) are driving large tech companies to build mega data centers that provide cloud-based services, creating headlines of billion-dollar, million-square-foot facilities (or thereabouts) consuming tens of megawatts. But smaller data center builds are numerous as well.

But if one project from the above list had to be selected for an award, it would definitely be the NSA’s facility in Utah. Aside from its impressive physical stats, this mammoth data center highlights American schizophrenia when it comes to privacy: private companies getting your private data to send you advertisements is somehow less acceptable than government agencies getting your private data to tax you more, send you to prison or worse.

The biggest question mark from the above sampling is split between the identity of the company planning the $1.2 billion data center in the midwest and whether Apple’s alternative energy project will be a success (i.e., whether the company will do something similar at other data center locations). But these are the questions that keep the data center market interesting.

Photo courtesy of IntelFreePress

About Jeff Clark

Jeff Clark is editor for the Data Center Journal. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Richmond, as well as master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech. An author and aspiring renaissance man, his interests range from quantum mechanics and processor technology to drawing and philosophy.


  1. Tom McKeown May 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm -

    Google, Facebook and Yahoo! are exploring green technologies to run their massive data centers, not so much because they care about the environment — although they might — but because it saves money and running those data centers is a significant part of the cost of doing business for these companies.

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