In his recent interview in Wired, Google CEO Eric Schmidt makes an extraordinary statement about the company’s data centers. Wired interviewer Fred Vogelstein asks Schmidt how many data centers Google operates. Schmidt’s reponse:
I think my overall description would be in the dozens. There are a few very large ones, some of which have been leaked to the press. But in a year or two the very large ones will be the small ones because the growth rate is such that we keep building even larger ones, and that’s where a lot of the capital spending in the company is going.
“The very large ones will be the small ones.” Think about that for a moment. The best known of the new generation of mega-centers is Google’s data center in The Dalles, Oregon, which was featured on the front page of the New York Times. Let’s use that as a starting point for exploring how Google is scaling its data center ambitions.
Land acquisition is perhaps an imperfect metric for analyzing these projects (more on this in a moment), but the progression is mighty interesting:
- 2005: Google begins work on a facility on 30 acres of land in The Dalles, Oregon.
- 2006: Google buys 215 acres of land in Lenoir, North Carolina for a data center project, which is officially announced in January 2007.
- Jan 2007: Google confirms that it bought nearly 520 acres of land for a data center in Goose Creek, South Carolina, which was announced in April.
- April 2007: Google confirms that it has purchased 800 acres of land in Pryor, Oklahoma for potential use as a data center project.
Check out the progression: 30 acres, then 220 acres, then 520 acres and now 800 acres. There are several explanations for why Google is buying such large amounts of real estate. The company is notoriously secretive about its data centers, and may want a “buffer zone” to make them harder to see and photograph from public roads. Some have theorized that the larger footprints are all about power capacity, with Google buying adjacent land that might otherwise be developed and leased to companies that would compete with Google for electricity.
But Schmidt’s comment to Wired suggests that the obvious conclusion is also the correct one: Google is buying larger tracts of land to accommodate much larger data centers, facilities that will make the celebrity data center at The Dalles look small by comparison.