Amazon’s Cloud Goes Modular in Oregon

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The data center arm of Amazon.com is building data centers at three sites in Oregon, according to local media, who report that two of the sites are using a modular design. A third site, which has been the focus of on-and-off construction activity for several years, appears to be employing a more traditional design.

With the new projects, Amazon.com joins major cloud builders Google, Microsoft and Yahoo in embracing factory-built components as a strategy to reduce the cost and deployment time for data center capacity. The Oregon construction is part of a larger effort by Amazon to prepare for a significant expansion of its data center capacity to accommodate the growth of its cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon has also been acquiring property near Dublin, Ireland to expand the European data center hub for AWS.

Focus on Oregon

The three Amazon projects are all located along the Columbia river near the towns of Boardman and McNary in eastern Oregon. Amazon.com has been considering this area for data center development since 2008, when its data center arm Vadata bought land in Boardman within the Port of Morrow economic development zone. A structure was built on the site, but then work was halted after the economy slowed. Last fall there were reports that Amazon was buying additional land in the Port of Umatilla.

Vadata has now filed building plans for the Umatilla site, which depict a data center design featuring six modules, according to Umatilla County planning director Tamra Mabbott. “Plans show the structures will be about 20 feet wide and 108 feet long, situated side by side on the property, surrounded by a 7-foot-high fence,” the East Oregonian reported Sunday.

The design concept appears similar in concept to the Yahoo Computing Coop, the next-generation design from Yahoo that uses pre-fabricated structures that are 120 feet long by 60 feet wide. The dimensions noted in the Oregon plans suggest that Amazon.com is using a narrower design.

Amazon.com has submitted plans to build a similar facility with six modules in the Port of Morrow, and also has also resumed work at the initial Boardman site.

Following the Power

The modular project in the Port of Umatilla is located alongside Lake Wallula, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Columbia River, which is lined with major data center projects upstream (Microsoft and Yahoo in Quincy, Washington) and downstream (The Google data center in The Dalles, Oregon), all attracted by the combination of cheap, green hydro-electric power. Oregon also provides a cool climate, allowing data centers to cool their servers using fresh air instead of power-hungry chillers and air conditioners.

The Vadata site in the Port of Umatilla is outside the city limits of Umatilla, which has prompted Vadata to ask the city to annex the property so the data center can access the city’s water and sewer lines,according to the Hermiston Herald. The city has agreed, but is working out cost-sharing arrangements with Amazon/Vadata.

“At this point, the water capacity is not as big an issue as sewer capacity,” Umatilla City Manager Bob Ward told the Herald. “Initially the build-out at Amazon will not be an issue, but that is something we may have to look at in the future if they expand.”

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large 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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