Google Data Center FAQ, Part 2

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How big are Google’s data centers?
Google doesn’t disclose the size of individual data center buildings, but journalists have managed to learn details of several sites from site plans filed with local planning boards:

  • In the Dalles, Oregon, Google’s site plan includes three 68,680 square foot data center buildings, a 20,000 square foot administration building, a 16,000 square foot “transient employee dormitory” and an 18,000 square foot facility for cooling towers. The blueprint was obtained by Harpers magazine.
  • The Google data center in Lenoir, North Carolina includes plans for two buildings, according to permits on file with Caldwell County, which describe one 139,797 square foot data center, with a 337,008 square foot structure to follow. The permits say the smaller building will cost $15.4 million, and the larger will cost $24.5 million, according to the records, which were detailed in a Jan. 24 story in the Charlotte Observer (now archived).
  • An aerial photo of the new Google site in Goose Creek, South Carolina shows one nearly-completed building and a cement pad for a second, much larger facility, suggesting a layout consistent with the Lenoir site plans.

Data center operators often standardize some of their construction process. The difference in the square footage reports for the data centers in The Dalles and Lenoir suggest that Google doesn’t standardize a single data center size (at least not on the level of MCI/WorldCom, which once built identical 109,000 square foot data centers in 25 cites). Google spokesman Barry Schnitt says Google data centers are not cookie-cutter designs, as the company is constantly updating its data center design and equipment to take advantage of the latest technological advances and efficiencies.

How much do Google data centers cost?
Each of the four new Google data center projects unveiled in 2007 cost an estimated $600 million. That figure includes capital investment for construction, infrastructure and computers for two data center buildings, according to Schnitt. Each project budget includes two data center facilities, with the option of adding a third, which would require additional expense beyond the $600 million. Those expenses will be realized over time. In its earnings reports, Google reported $1.9 billion in spending on data centers in 2006 and $2.4 billion in 2007.

 How does Google decide where to build its data centers?
Here are the factors that are known to influence Google’s data center site location process:

  • The availability of large volumes of cheap electricity to power the data centers
  • Google’s commitment to carbon neutrality, which has sharpened its focus on renewable power sources such as wind power and hydro power. The Dalles was chosen primarily for the availability of hydro power from the Columbia River, while the local utility’s wind power program influenced the selection of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
  • The presence of a large supply of water to support the chillers and water towers used to cool Google’s data centers. A number of recent Google data center sites have been next to rivers or lakes.
  • Large parcels of land, which allow for large buffer zones between the data center and nearby roads. This makes the facilities easier to secure, and is consistent with Google’s focus on data center secrecy. Google purchased 215 acres in Lenoir, 520 acres for the Goose Creek project, 800 acres of land in Pryor, and more than 1,200 acres in Council Bluffs. The extra land may also be used for building windmill farms to provide supplemental power at some facilities.
  • Distance to other Google data centers. Google needs lightning-fast response time for its searches, and prizes fast connections between its data centers. While big pipes can help address this requirement, some observers believe Google carefully spaces its data centers to preserve low latency in connections between facilities.
  • Tax incentives. Legislators in North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Iowa have all passed measures to provide tax relief to Google.

How much energy do Google data centers use, exactly?
Google’s major data centers are supported by at least 50 megawatts of electric power, with some estimates ranging as high as 103 megawatts – which is what Harpers magazine guesses is the power load for Google’s data center in The Dalles, Oregon. We suspect that estimate is slightly high, as it assumes 500 watts per square foot across the total footprint of the facility – which includes both technical and non-technical space.

By any measure, Google uses a boatload of power. The company has sought to avoid disclosing its power usage in its data centers. Prior to Google’s announcement of its Pryor, Oklahoma project, state legislators passed a law a law exempting municipal power companies from the requirement to report the amount of power used by their largest industrial customers.

There are other data center complexes that use more power than Google’s facilities. Digital Realty Trust has a facility in Chicago that has a 100 megawatt power feed, and a data center campus in Ashburn, Virginia that is wired for 225 megawatts.

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