In Iowa, A Field Becomes a Billion-Dollar Google Server Farm

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A satellite image of the Google data center campus near Council Bluffs, Iowa, which has grown rapidly over the last two years. (Image: Google Maps)

It’s not exactly “Field of Dreams.” But a field in Iowa provides evidence of how the data center revolution can transform a piece of empty land into a key Internet traffic hub in a matter of months.

The 1,000 acre property, located amid farmland about four miles south of Google’s initial facility in Council Bluffs, was purchased in 2007 to provide expansion space. In 2011 the land was vacant. But that has changed dramatically as the search giant adds capacity. In early 2013 the first two phases of data center space were completed. Photos from Google Maps in fall of 2013 show three additional buildings have been added, while more land is being cleared for future construction, which appears to include space for at least three more data center facilities.

Google plans to spend more than $1.5 billion to build Internet infrastructure in Council Bluffs, a city of 62,000 nested along the Missouri River, across the river from Omaha, Nebraska. The city offers an ideal environment for data center development – strong energy infrastructure, lots of land ready for development, and a skilled workforce. Google’s decision to build in Iowa has since been validated by Microsoft and Facebook, which are also building data center campuses in Iowa.

Council Bluffs is one of five locations across the U.S. where Google is building out massive data center hubs to power its network of Internet services. The others are in North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Oregon. These sites were chosen in 2006 and 2007, and saw a preliminary round of construction in which Google built one or perhaps two large server farms. But the company is now pumping more than $2 billion per quarter into a global data center construction program.

Rather than finding new locations to build, Google is expanding at existing campuses where it can take advantage of its scale, building upon available power and fiber infrastructure. It’s an approach that allows it to get the biggest bang for its data center investment dollars, and underscores the importance of the company’s initial site selection decisions.

Here’s a look at how Google’s campus in Iowa has progressed, illustrated in satellite photos from Google Maps and Pottawattamie County:

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Here’s a look at Google’s first data center in Council Bluffs, which was built near the site of a drive-in movie theater. The facility was completed in 2008, and features a Google design in which generators are housed in the equipment yard outside the building.

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In late 2007 Google acquired this 1,000 acre plot of land for potential data center expansion. This 2011 aerial shows the undeveloped site, with the initial preparations for a power substation at upper right.

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This photo from early 2013 shows the progress at the site, which now features two data halls. The design is slightly different from the initial Council Bluffs site, as the generators are now enclosed within the superstructure of the building.

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The current image on Google Maps shows an additional data hall attached to the first two, along with two new buildings across the street, and the completed substation.

Next: A Look Inside Google’s Iowa Server Farms

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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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  1. This is quite impressive. 3 buildings with 9 generator groups each. That 57 MW if each group is a pair of 1 MW generator (most likely 1.5~2MVA, but let's be conservative here). At 250W per server and a PUE of 1.1 (current Google fleet TTM PUE) that's enough to house 196,000 servers (or google rack units if you provide 250 watts to servers and storage bays alike).