Microsoft Picks Virginia for Major Data Center

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A recent version of the Microsoft IT-PAC container, which will be a key component of the new Microsoft data center.

Microsoft has selected a site near Boydton, Virginia for a major new data center project, with plans to invest up to $499 million in the rural community in the southern part of the state. The company plans to build a cutting-edge data center that will serve as the East Coast hub for Microsoft’s online services.

Microsoft’s decision is being welcomed by officials in Virginia, which engaged in a pitched battle with neighboring North Carolina to win the huge project, which will create 50 new jobs.

Boydton, a town of about 500 residents in Mecklenburg County, will become the unlikely home for one of the world’s most advanced new modular data centers. Microsoft’s new facility will feature the use of its container-based design known as an IT-PAC (short for Pre-Assembled Component). By using modular systems and repeatable designs, Microsoft can reduce the cost of building its data center.

Microsoft Adding Cloud Capacity
With the Virginia project, Microsoft continues to step up its data center construction program as it builds future capacity for its battle with Google and other leading players in cloud computing. In May the company began building a second data center in Quincy, Washington, and in June it confirmed plans to move forward with the construction of a new data center in West Des Moines, Iowa.   

“We are excited to announce that we will be building our latest state-of-the-art data center near Boydton, Virginia,” said Kevin Timmons, General Manager of Microsoft Datacenter Services. “My team and I look forward to engaging in the deployment of our latest modular solution in Virginia. This new data center will enable the best possible delivery of services to our current and future customers.”

Timmons also thanked state and local officials for their efforts during Microsoft’s site location process.  

“Microsoft is a household name and securing this global project is a significant win for Virginia,” said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. “The company’s search process was long and competitive, and a great team of players came together to show Microsoft that Mecklenburg County was the right fit for its new version of a state-of-the-art data center. The project represents the largest investment in Southern Virginia. 

“It will further bolster the Commonwealth’s standing as a leader in the information technology sector, while creating new jobs for our citizens and spurring economic development throughout the region,” he continued.

Three States in the Running
Microsoft has been scouting sites in Virginia, North Carolina and at least one other state for about six months. At different times the company has been rumored to be considering sites in Christiansburg, Va. and near Greensboro, N.C. But in the end, sources say it came down to two locations – the Boydton location and a site in western North Carolina.

The Boydton site has strong fiber connectivity from existing routes supporting a government data center in the region. The fiber optic network of the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC) was described as a”key component” in Microsoft’s decision to locate in Virginia.

Attention from the Governor
Virginia pulled out all the stops in the bid to win the Microsoft project. In mid-June McDonnell made an unannounced visit to Boydton to discuss the project with local officials. But there was plenty of competition. In July North Carolina legislators passed a bill expanding earlier measures to attract major data centers.

But Microsoft apparently found the Boydton Industrial Park a compelling location. The 175-acre site features a 40-acre graded pad. The site is served by Dominion Virginia Power and its water utility is the Roanoke River Public Service Authority.

Grants from State Will Support Project
McDonnell approved a $2.1 million grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to assist Mecklenburg County with the project. The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission approved $4.8 million in funds. The Virginia Department of Business Assistance will provide training assistance through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.

At Microsoft, the IT-PAC serves as the foundation of a broader shift to a modular, component-based design that offers cost-cutting opportunities at almost every facet of the project. They are designed to operate in all environments, and employ a free cooling approach in which fresh air is drawn into the enclosure through louvers in the side of the container – which effectively functions as a huge air handler with racks of servers inside.

Next-Generation Data Center Design
This next-generation design gives Microsoft the ability to to forego the concrete bunker exterior seen in many data centers in favor of a steel and aluminum structure built around a central power spine. Microsoft’s decision to leave the facility open to the air was guided by a research project in which the company housed servers in a tent for eight months.

Microsoft has built four huge data centers to support the growth of its online business, including its Windows Azure cloud computing platform. The sites in Chicago, Dublin, San Antonio and Quincy, Washington have each been in the neighborhood of 500,000 square feet.

Microsoft has been operating a pair of data centers in northern Virginia, where it has been one of the largest tenants in data centers operated by DuPont Fabros Technology (DFT).

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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10 Comments

  1. Many thanks for your decision to locate Microsoft Center in Mecklenburg County, Va. We extend hospitality, love and appreciation to all Wallace Icenhour Wallace Icenhour Foundation

  2. Harriet Mayfield Paige

    Thank you Microsoft for picking Boydton,Va for your next site. Boydton is where I grow up with my family. I was there this summer and drove by that site. Many thanks, HMP

  3. Microsoft, Rev.Net is planning to move some facilities into the Mecklenburg area also. Welcome neighbors!

  4. Mike Allen

    Siting is definitely one of the most important factors that affect the energy consumption and thus the costs of computing. There are places with cooler climates than in the continental US and with more green electricity available. I would recommend anybody considering siting a datacenter to take a look at the Finnish website on these issues: http://www.fincloud.freehostingcloud.com/

  5. E.Pearson

    Boydton Virginia is a prime location for new growth in the 21 century . This is the door of opportunity for other companies to follow this region to help boost the economic . I love my home site.