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July 26, 2013

Data Center Building Boom Comes to Iowa

Alex Woodie

If you’re a tech giant and you’re looking for a place to build a new data center, there’s a good chance that a location in Iowa will be on your short list. Several billion-dollar data center projects are in the works in Iowa, which offers relative security from natural disasters, tax incentives, and a thriving clean energy industry.

Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have all committed to building or expanding a data center in the Hawkeye State in the last year. Google kicked off the building boom in 2007, when it chose the city of Council Bluffs to build a new data center to house data and power its Web services. Several rounds of additional investments in the data center culminated in 2012, when its investment totaled more than $1 billion.

In April, Facebook announced plans to build a $1 billion data center in Altoona, which will be its fourth data center. The Menlo Park, California company said that, when the center is up and running in 2014, it “will be among the most advanced and energy efficient facilities of its kind.”

Microsoft has also gotten in on the action, and in June announced plans to invest another $677 million to expand an existing data center in West Des Moines, which houses cloud-related data. That pushes Microsoft’s total investment in the project, which began in 2008, to more than $1 billion. Microsoft will receive up to $20 million in tax credits for its “ProjectMountain” data center, which will create 29 good-paying jobs.

Iowa is one of the leaders wind-powered electricity generation. Nearly a quarter of the state’s electricity came from wind turbine in 2012. That number is expected to increase in the years to come, thanks to billion-dollar investments in wind turbine construction by private industry.

The state is also relatively free from natural disasters. While it has an occasional tornado, it’s not located in Tornado Alley, and earthquakes and hurricanes are practically non-existent.

Tech consumers are driving the boom in data center construction, according to Bruce Lehrman, CEO of Involta, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, company that builds and operates data centers in the region.

“One of the things that a lot of people don’t understand is, if they have email somewhere, well guess what? That’s being driven on a server somewhere, that data is being stored somewhere,” Lehrman said in an interview with The Gazette, a publication in eastern Iowa. “They say they’re not using any data center services, [but] they really are. I think people need to understand that this stuff just doesn’t happen. It needs to be housed somewhere, stored somewhere, running somewhere.”

The demand to store and process data will only increase as humans and machines continue to generate data at an exponential rate. Consider that, according to University of California, Berkeley researchers, it took from the beginning of recorded time through 2002 to generate 5 exabytes of data. By 2011, the pace of data generation accelerated to the point where it took two days for the world to create 5 exabytes of data. By 2013, 5 exabytes was being generated every 10 minutes.

At this pace, a few years from now, 5 exabytes of data will be generated in a matter of seconds. All that data needs to live somewhere, so why not Iowa?

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