Dark Fiber Challenges Derail Project in Upstate NY

An aerial view of the Yahoo data center in Lockport, N.Y.

An aerial view of the Yahoo data center in Lockport, N.Y.

It’s not easy being green. At least not for data center providers attracted to the cool breezes and hydroelectric power in upstate New York. The region is home to a Yahoo data center that has been cited by Greenpeace and others for its energy efficiency and sustainable design.

So in an era of increasing scrutiny of data center sustainability, why aren’t more companies building in this ideal location? A number of data center projects have scouted sites in the area and opted not to build for a variety of reasons. Prior to Yahoo’s arrival, several prospects reportedly experienced challenges with power provisioning. A proposed Verizon project was slowed by legal challenges from area landowners, and later shelved when the company opted to buy Terremark instead of building new space.

In the latest example, local officials in Lockport, N.Y. say a data center company that spent two years evaluating a site near Yahoo has backed out die to a lack of dark fiber at the site. The town’s Industrial Development Agency is now considering whether to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to make dark fiber available at the site, citing the need to compete on future deals, according to The Buffalo News.

One question in the mix is whether the cost of extending dark fiber to a site should be borne by the data center operator or the developer or economic development agency. With more states extending tax breaks and other economic incentives to attract data centers, the competitive landscape is shifting. Even as Greenpeace and other groups seek to pressure data center operators to use more renewable energy, that often requires tradeoffs once the larger economics of site location are considered.

So a question for our readers: Can sustainability and data center economics align? If so, what are the areas that offer the best opportunities?


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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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  1. Interesting article, and a good question. There are two major relevant factors here. Firstly the use of the data centre - if it is a digital exchange of some kind, then the connectivity required would not just be about the bandwidth from one provider - multiple providers would be required. If the data centre is a DR site for argument's sake, then it might not need to be quite as high spec as a production site. So the use of the data centre dictates its design and to some extent the location because of the design requirements. Then we have the gradual shift to the cloud and virtualised infrastructures. This is happening on a global scale and cloud providers are building resilience and flexibility into their application architectures. Users do not know which data centre they are using at any given time and do not necessarily want to go and visit the servers once a month to check they are still there. :) So the people running data centres like to be close to them still, but the end users are getting less worried about it. The back-end cloud core data centres could possibly be candidates for the location above, but they will look for bandwidth and throughput, and some level of resilience in both the data centre and the connectivity. All these factors and more have to be taken into account when choosing a location for a data centre - and along the way the financial cost models need to be adjusted to check the location is viable. It's a complicated business!

  2. Interesting - a few years ago this question would have been a no-brainer and I appreciate you posing it here. Back in the good ole’ days, the Operator of the center would expect to pay for at least the ‘last mile’ from the point where the carrier/s landed. The fact that tax incentives are being used to attract these high users of power tells me as a rate payer and consumer that the electric company should chip in - why allow one agency/company to gain all the benefit without some payment? And since rate payers could see fewer future rate hikes with a large user of power in the area (at least that’s what the economics are supposed to be), then cities might be inclined to chip in as well to help get the fiber to the site. So to me, in a nut shell – the utilities, rate payers (city/economic development), property developer, carrier/s, and the Operator should all agree to pay some part because in the end they all benefit. The question of who pays what percent would depend on who has the better negotiators on staff. And consider this; there are plenty of dark fiber companies that would run this fiber as an investment – in this model none of the above pays to run it; just to use it. I don’t see this as a question of sustainability or being green though….I can’t see a conundrum between being green and getting fiber to the site, just as I don’t see a trade-off between getting water or energy there and somehow balancing that against sustainability. Fiber is just another utility. But if they really want to be green, put in a satellite farm like we do in the Middle East….. :-)