Why Data Centers Are Popping Up In Iowa

Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are building data centers full of servers to store photos, status updates, and apps.

Even before it finished building its first wind-powered data center in Altoona, Iowa, Facebook is asking the city to approve plans for a second one. If approved by the city’s Planning and Zoning Board Tuesday night,  the Altoona City Council will review Facebook’s plans on May 5.

Those bureaucratic steps seem like they’ll be formalities, from the looks of posts on Facebook’s Altoona Data Center page. Iowans appear to be huge fans of Facebook and the jobs it is creating.

“We are thrilled to see you move forward on the construction of another data center in Altoona,” the Greater Des Moines wrote on the Altoona Data Center’s Facebook page. “The momentum from the first project has made a huge impact on development in our region and we celebrate the business opportunities it has created.”

Microsoft is spending $1.1 billion on a new data center in West Des Moines, and Google has a data center about 120 miles away, in Council Bluffs.

Move Fast And Build Things

The Des Moines Register said Facebook was constructing its Altoona data centers in three phases, each costing about $300 million. The first data center contains 476,000 square feet of space. In this second phase to build a similarly-sized data center, Facebook will likely use the “modular and lean construction principles” it contributed to the Open Compute Project this year.

Facebook believes the design, which it calls the “rapid deployment data center,” will help them set up data centers twice as fast as they could in the past.

“We also believe it will prove to be much more site-agnostic and will greatly reduce the amount of material used in the construction,” wrote Marco Magarelli, a design engineer on Facebook’s data center design team.

Big Data Is Thirsty

One thing they haven’t figured out how to reduce entirely: the toll these data centers take on infrastructure and the environment. Like corn fields, data centers rely on water for growth. Microsoft’s data centers stay cool with water. The Register reported last week that Microsoft’s data center could use up to 6 million gallons of water on the hottest summer days—about 8% of the peak demand at the Des Moines Water Works.

In Altoona, the city approved a lower water rate for businesses that use more than 9 million gallons a month.

Facebook has released the code for its water-usage dashboard as open source, in an effort to help other businesses use water more efficiently.

Lead image courtesy of Altoona Living/Photo by Daniel Hodges

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