Another Major Data Center for Prineville?

The first building at Facebook's data center campus in Oregon, which is built on a high plain above the small town of Prineville (Population: 10,000).

Another large data center may soon join Apple and Facebook in the small central Oregon town of Prineville, according to local media reports. Efforts to attract an additional data center have been boosted by the acceleration of a project to bring an additional 400 megawatts of power capacity to Prineville.

The prospective data center project, known by state and local officials by the codename Jasper, has been scouting sites in Oregon since last fall. At one point, it was believed that the company had put its Oregon plans on hold. But local media report that Prineville may be positioned to land Project Jasper, which is said to be considering a property on Millican Road, less than a mile from the location of a major data center for Facebook.

Facebook put Prineville on the data center map by choosing the small town, which has a population of about 10,000, as the site of an ultra-efficient data center. The company has spent more than $210 million on the Prineville facility, and recently began building a second data center identical to the first. Facebook’s long-term plans for the campus include an option for a third 300,000 square foot facility.

Additional Power Could Mean More Data Centers

That’s where the issue of power capacity enters the picture. The 28 megawatts of utility power dedicated for Facebook’s for the 300,000 square foot first phase isn’t extraordinary for a data center of that size. But it stands out in Crook
County, where all the homes and business other than Facebook use 30 megawatts of power. Based on the power requirements of the first building, that could mean about 78 megawatts of electricity to support the Facebook campus.

In February Apple confirmed plans to build a data center across the street from the Facebook campus. The arrival of a second huge project sharpened the focus on the regional power capacity.

Shortly after Apple’s arrival, the Bonneville Power Administration and Pacific Power announced plans to accelerate the completion of the Ponderosa substation in Prineville, which will add 400 megawatts of electric capacity. The substation, which was originally scheduled for completion in June 2013, will now be completed in January.

That additional power appears to be the key to unleashing significant data center construction in Prineville. Local permits indicate that Apple is commencing a 10,000 square foot first phase using modular units by NxGen Modular, with a more extensive build-out anticipated once additional power is available.

Who is Jasper?

The availability of power appears to have jump-started the Jasper project. So who is the mystery tenant? Some local media have mentioned Rackspace, which has reportedly scouted sites in the state. The Oregonian reported that Boardman Acquisition LLC – an entity presumed by some to be connected to Racksapace – had purchased on option to buy land at the Port of Morrow, where Amazon operates a data center supporting its cloud computing platform.

“Rackspace had initially considered Prineville for its facility, but late last year, the company opted to locate in Morrow County instead,” the Central Oregonian reported last week. “Now, rumors have emerged that Rackspace might flip back to Prineville, because Morrow County lacks an adequate power supply. Those rumors have not yet been confirmed.”

The chatter about a shift in plans may be tied to the Port of Morrow’s option with Boardman Acquisition, which was originally set to expire March 31. In February, the port commissioners approved an amendment to the agreement. The amendment was approved in executive session, so details aren’t yet available, but the timing suggests it could include an extension.

Codename Confusion?

One reason that it’s difficult to sort out whether Rackspace is in the Prineville picture is that Oregon officials have reportedly used the codename “Cloud” for the Rackspace opportunity, suggesting “Jasper” is another project entirely. Rackspace says it has no plans to build any data centers and will continue to lease its facilities. One possibility is that Rackspace is working with a wholesale provider or developer on a project in Oregon. This approach would allow Rackspace to lease rather than build (consistent with its strategy) and provide the right economics for a developer to pursue new construction of a wholesale or build-to-suit project.

The pursuit of cheap power and lower taxes is changing the face of the data center industry, placing huge facilities in remote locations far removed from the users, such as Prineville.

The central Oregon climate allows data centers to take advantage of “free cooling,” the practice of using cool outside temperatures to support the cooling systems. This approach allows data centers to use outside air to either cool water or provide direct air cooling for servers. Either approach allows companies to reduce their use of refrigeration systems, which use a large amount of energy.

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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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