Facebook to Build Third Data Center in Iowa
Facebook’s first Altoona, Iowa, data center. (Image: Facebook)

Facebook to Build Third Data Center in Iowa

As consumption of web services continues growing, web-scale data center operators continue building to keep up with demand

In one of a string of mega data center announcements by web giants this week, Facebook said it has made plans to build a third data center on its Altoona, Iowa, campus. The social network’s first data center in Altoona is live, and the second one is currently under construction.

Such rapid data center capacity expansion illustrates how quickly Facebook’s user base and the amount of content its users upload are growing. The amount of people and businesses consuming online services in general is growing rapidly, and companies that provide those services continue building data centers to make sure they can keep up with demand.

Earlier this week Google announced plans to build new data centers in the Atlanta metro and in Singapore, and Microsoft revealed plans to build its first two Azure cloud data centers in Canada. Also this week, Amazon and local officials in Ohio made public the company’s plans to build its next data center there.

One of the things all four of these companies have in common is they are all referred to as “web-scale” or “hyperscale” data center owners and operators. They build massive data centers optimized as much as possible to run their specific applications, from servers and network switches down to electrical infrastructure and building design. As a result, they benefit greatly from efficiency savings gained from optimization at such enormous scale.

Construction of the third Facebook data center in Altoona is expected to start this summer, a company spokeswoman said via email.

The company chose to expand in Iowa and not at two of its other data center campuses in the U.S. – it has one in Prineville, Oregon, and another one in Forest City, North Carolina – for a number of reasons. They include a “shovel-ready” site, access to fiber and power, a strong talent pool for construction and operations staff, access to wind power, and support from local officials, she explained.

This will be the first Facebook data center campus to have three full-size data centers. The company has also built smaller, stripped-down data centers for “cold storage” in addition to its full-size facilities at the Oregon and North Carolina campuses.

Facebook anticipates building three in Altoona to come online in late 2016, according to the spokeswoman. “Like we've done at our other data center sites, we will expand as business needs dictate,” she said.

The company announced the launch of its first Altoona data center just last November. Facebook has contracted for about 140 megawatts of power in a long-term power purchase agreement with a nearby Wellsburg wind farm. The company uses wind power to offset carbon emissions associated with power consumption of its data center campus.

Size or design of the third building has not been finalized yet, according to the spokeswoman, but the power purchase agreement will provide enough capacity to cover all three Facebook data centers at the site. “This wind farm adds 140 MW of new renewable energy to the grid and is enough to match our projected load needs,” she said.

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