QUINCY, Wash. – Beans once grew on the land where Microsoft’s data centers now stand. Quincy was a small farming community that has grown into a town. As you arrive in Quincy, you can see the changes brought by the arrival of a cluster of huge Internet data centers.
Driving through town, something stands out: the fire station. Instead of a one-engine company, the fire station for the town looks state of the art, rivaling the best fire stations in the biggest cities. It’s one thing Microsoft and other providers have helped bring to the community through its investment in Quincy and its community.
Quincy’s motto is “Where Agriculture Meets Technology.” There are 200,000 acres of farmland surrounding Quincy, which is known for its rich soil and food processing plants. It’s also almost a perfect location for data centers. The Columbia River provides low cost power . The land was dirt cheap when Microsoft and Yahoo first purchased property here. A strange thing happened in this small community 20 years ago: the mayor decided to invest heavily in dark fiber. The citizens, by all accounts, thought this was crazy.
The Economic Benefits of a Data Center Cluster
Not any more. The combination of cheap power, cheap land and dark fiber set up the perfect storm. Now, thanks to Microsoft and others like Yahoo locating here, property values are rising, new houses and stores are everywhere. There is always new construction in town, which has grown from 5,400 residents in 2007 to more than 6,200 today.
While just 35 to 50 people work on the Microsoft Quincy campus, the arrival of data centers has meant much more than just jobs. The town has benefited in a variety of ways, from a surge in construction to being able to get 100mbs internet connections for 20 bucks a month.
After receiving $700,000 in sales taxes in 2005, Quincy’s tax revenue grew to $1.5 million in 2006 and nearly tripled to $4.3 million in 2007 due to data center construction by Microsoft and Yahoo. Those two Internet giants were followed by new data center projects from Intuit, Sabey Corp., Dell and Vantage Data Centers.
On the Technology Frontier
In the process, Quincy has become home to two of the world’s most advanced data centers. Both Microsoft and Yahoo have deployed cutting edge designs featuring pre-fabricated components and using fresh air for cooling, placing them among the most efficient facilities in the industry.
The phased buildouts at Microsoft and Yahoo reflect the maturation of the data center industry. The first phase of Microsoft’s Quincy facility (known as Columbia 1 and 2) is a typical colocation facility. It has 36-inch raised floors, and the roofs were painted white because it meant less heat and better energy efficiency. A UPS room has 20 minutes of capacity for the switchover to generators. Generators are always ready – Microsoft has patents in how it pre-heats them. Outside, diesel fuel is contained in glass lined containers, with enough onsite to operate for days and all the agreements in place for more. The generators are tested every month.
With its latest phase, Microsoft has shifted to lightweight enclosures filled with servers, known as ITPACs, housed on concrete slabs. They are self-contained data centers, assembled in days, housed on a concrete slabs and attached to a power “spine” supplying connections to the grid and the Internet.
Down the street, Yahoo has seen a similar transformation. Its first phase, built in 2007, features a relatively traditional concrete shell data center. Next to the building sit several new “computing coops,” prefabricated metal structures measuring about 120 feet long by 60 feet wide. Each of the coops has louvers built into the side to allow cool air to enter the computing area.
Water Plant: A Model of Infrastructure Sharing
Microsoft has also built a water processing plant for cooling, which showcases the relationship between the town and its data centers. In a move that will save millions of gallons of potable water for the local community, Microsoft and Quincy have teamed to retool the city’s water treatment infrastructure. The multi-million dollar water treatment plant built by Microsoft to support its data center will be leased to the city for just $10 a year. The plant will be retrofitted and expanded to support the water reuse initiative, which will allow other nearby businesses and data centers to benefit.
The relationship between the town and its data center has not been without controversy. A tiff between Microsoft and the local utility over power usage quotas made the New York Times in 2012. The growing number of diesel generators to provide emergency power for the data centers generated debate in 2010 when Microsoft applied to add more generators for the second phase of its campus. The Washington State Ecology department conducted an evaluation of the health risks from diesel engine exhaust particulates, and found that the Microsoft expansion, viewed in isolation, was not likely to impact public health. An independent board later supported that ruling.
In an era when it’s not always easy to quantify the economic bottom line of data center development, Quincy has emerged as the most prominent example of the two rationales for incentives: that landing one major data center will attract others and form a “cluster,” and that the collective impact of the cluster will have an economic benefit for the community.