Google and Apple may be having their tensions at the boardroom level, as seen in this week’s news that Google CEO Eric Schmidt will resign as a director of Apple. But the two technology giants are aligned in another area: the merits of western North Carolina as a haven for massive Internet data centers.
Apple’s planned $1 billion data center in Maiden, North Carolina is just 25 miles from a huge Google data center complex in Lenoir. The proximity is not an accident, as the Google project in Caldwell County prompted economic development officials in nearby towns to begin pursuing data center development.
That included Catawba County, where economic development director Scott Millar began a concerted effort to attract data centers, a process that culminated in Apple’s decision to build in Maiden. Millar believes the presence of the technology sector’s two marquee names will attract additional projects, establishing the region as a major data center destination.
“I think that from an investment standpoint, now every CIO in the country is forced to look at the merits of the Apple/Google Corridor,” said Millar. “We’re not going to quit here.”
Research Triangle as Early Focus
North Carolina has always had data centers in the Raleigh/Durham area, which is home to Research Triangle Park and data centers for companies including IBM, NetApp, Ralph Lauren, Peak 10, Hosted Solutions and DataChambers. In late 2006 Google began scouting sites in North Carolina, and began negotiating a tax incentive package with state and local legislators. This led to Google’s January 2007 announcement that it would invest $600 million in a major data center in Lenoir, a small town previously known for its furniture industry.
The arrival of the huge Google project up the road gave Millar a new focus for his economic development efforts. “We started thinking about developing potential sites for data centers, and realized we had some infrastructure-rich sites,” he said.
Millar joined the 7×24 Exchange and other data center industry groups, and began building relationships with site location companies that specialized in data centers. He also got to know the local officials familiar with the Lenoir project to boost interest in a data center corridor spanning the two counties.
“We’ve been working together with pofficials from Caldwell County to market this idea for several years,” said Millar. “Duke Energy serves both sites, and is competitive with its pricing,” which is typically between 4 and 5 cents a kilowatt hour for industrial customers.
“One of the things that’s driving the competitiveness of our area is the power capacity built for manufacturers in the past 50 years,” said Millar. “Having that capacity and those redundancies has helped the region. We’ve got other sites and other buildings ready to go as well.”