As reliable data becomes an increasingly essential need to businesses of every stripe, the role of datacenters has moved front and center. No longer an afterthought, the locations of a company's datacenters have become an important bussinesswide issue. So when businesses look for new locations for their datacenters, why are they choosing the same places?
Datacenter hotspots, those areas blooming with warehouse-sized, power-hungry Internet hubs, all share certain characteristics: good fiber-optic infrastructure; cheap, reliable power sources (often "green" or otherwise renewable ); and relative safety from natural disasters . Find a geographic region with a combination of these factors, and there are likely to be datacenters already there or on the way.
The Columbia River Valley generates huge amounts of cheap, clean, renewable energy by a network of hydroelectric dams. In 2006, Google began constructing its datacenter in The Dalles, Ore. — population 12,000 — to take advantage of the preinstalled fiber-optic infrastructure and cheap, nonpolluting power within the same geographic region as its Northern California headquarters.
Soon, other big Internet companies with headquarters in the Northwest — Microsoft, Yahoo! Inc., Ask and Intuit Inc. to name a few — began to relocate their datacenters to areas along the Columbia River. In early 2006, The Associated Press also revealed that the National Security Agency had its own facility on the Columbia River in neighboring Washington on the Army's gigantic Yakima Training Center, which had been using the same nexus of cheap power and dark fiber that attracted Google and the other companies.
Although many people think of California and the West Coast when they think about the data economy, Virginia has actually led the U.S. in tech-job growth in the past two years. Also, Virginia has been the home of MCI-Worldcom, Sprint and AT&T, and today it hosts Sprint-Nextel and AOL LLC, as well as government agencies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation. Recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced plans for an $800 million datacenter, reportedly to be located in Clarksville, Va. By contrast, Google spends only $600 million for the datacenters it announced in 2007.
Lke the forward thinkers in Oregon who invested tax dollars in fiber-optic infrastructure, the policymakers in Virginia found $312.9 million to invest in fiber spanning the state, $67.6 million of which came from the 1998 National Tobacco Settlement. This settlement is designed to help rural areas transition from a tobacco economy into a data economy, expanding Virginia's tech base, which had previously been confined to suburban Northern Virginia.
Virginia's fiber backbone, known as the MBC (Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative), can offer up to a 100-gigabit connection and went operational in October 2006. Some estimates state that MBC will create between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs over the next five years.
Consequently, new tech businesses are coming in to replace buildings left vacant by the tech firms of yesterday. Criticon Corp., a data-processing and preparation host, has announced that it will invest $115 million to open a 150,000-square-foot co-location datacenter in Harrisonburg, Va. at a site formerly owned by Tyco International Ltd.
And new businesses are finding Virginia to be the expansion location of first choice. Facebook recently went online with a 10,000-square-foot datacenter in Ashburn, Va. to power its site, which had 30.6 million viewers in September.
Texas has attracted its own share of datacenters because of its low power costs and the fact that it has its own power grid, ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas). ERCOT supplies power to 85 percent of the Lone Star State and is fueled by Texas's large coal and natural-gas reserves.
Because it is a reliable source of large amounts of power, Texas has attracted numerous datacenters to Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso, despite the trend of datacenter companies to seek energy from green, more environmentally protective power sources like hydroelectricity, wind or solar . In Texas, for the most part, data is fueled by cheap coal and gas.
For instance, The Planet.com Internet Services Inc., the world's largest privately held company dedicated exclusively to Web hosting, recently announced datacenter expansions in both its Dallas and Houston facilities, bringing the company's total datacenter footprint to 175,000 square feet, with plans to reach 215,000 square feet by the end of 2007
Also, Citigroup is spending $450 million for its Austin datacenter, and Microsoft has plans to build a new San Antonio facility at a cost of at least $550 million.
Of the four $600 million datacenters Google announced in 2007, perhaps the most surprising location was the one in Pryor, Okla., population 9,000. It was the smallest town yet for a chosen Google spot, barely half the size of The Dalles, Ore. or Lenoir, N.C.
In Pryor, Google purchased an 800-acre site in an industrial park to build its standard-sized $600 million datacenter by mid-2008. Like its facility in The Dalles, Google's Oklahoma datacenter will operate on clean, renewable hydroelectricity, with a 15MW-per-day power habit supplied by the Grand River Dam Authority. The fiber-optic infrastructure, as of yet nonexistent, will be supplied by the industrial park.
Google's new location comes with a new sort of data neighbors, too. A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Pryor in Norman, Okla. — the two small towns have Tulsa and Oklahoma City between them — the Chickasaw Nation is planning a 150,000-square-foot Tier 4 datacenter, which could bring 1,000 to 1,500 high-paying jobs to a building formerly owned by a publishing company. The Chickasaw datacenter will be equipped with redundant power, emergency systems to last 60 to 90 days, dual power feeds, dual IT feeds and the ability to withstand an F4 tornado.
Growing at a compound annual growth rate of 21 percent, the data market in India could be worth $100 million and as much as double that by 2009, according to Symantec Corp. One epicenter for India's emerging data market is Bangalore, where Hewlett-Packard recently consolidated 14 datacenters into a single 70,000-square-foot facility. Using its own cooling system, Dynamic Smart Cooling, Hewlett-Packard plans to reduce energy consumption by 40 percent, which is necessary due to unreliable power from India's energy grid; all the datacenters in Bangalore are powered with diesel fuel at a cost of upward of 26 cents per kilowatt-hour, or more than four times the cost of American grid power.
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