The Reality of the Rural Datacenter

By Deane Barker on September 25, 2012

Data Barns in a Farm Town, Gobbling Power and Flexing Muscle: This article details the sometimes contentious relationships data centers have with their “host” cities.

Data centers are often out in rural areas in order to take advantage of cheap electricity.  This means you have a massive powerhouse (in the physical, economic, and legal sense) dealing with a smaller local government.

Just three days after the ribbon cutting, Microsoft began flexing its muscle. Mr. Manos wrote to the utility commissioners complaining that they were slow in building a substation to provide 48 million watts of electrical capacity to Microsoft. That would be enough to power about 29,000 American homes, according to an analysis based on federal figures conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute – about four homes for every person in Quincy.

Mr. Manos said the pace of construction “dramatically affects our agility as a business,” adding that “our confidence is becoming quite shaky.” If construction could not be accelerated, Mr. Manos asked, would Microsoft be eligible for $700,000 in reimbursements?

Some local officials were taken aback at what Mr. Culbertson, the former utility general manager, called “a level of arrogance.”

The article concentrates on Microsoft’s data center in the small town of Quincy, Washington.  Throughout, there are oblique references to how the neat, sanitized idea of “the cloud” in our heads compares to hulking, belching, ravenous reality of the data centers behind it.