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 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 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 cost $15.4 million, and the larger cost $24.5 million, according to the records, which were detailed in a Jan. 24 story in the Charlotte Observer (now archived).

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?
A lot. Back in 2007, Google reported spending $2.4 billion on data centers. By 2015 that figure rose to $11 billion. In fact, in the first quarter of 2016 alone, the company reported spending $2 billion on investments in production equipment, facilities, and data center construction. Google said it will invest an additional $600 million to expand its data center operations in The Dalles, Oregon, where the company built its first data center in 2006. Google will create a second campus in The Dalles on a 23-acre property about a mile from its existing campus, which houses three large data centers. The new campus will push Google’s investment in its Oregon operations to nearly $2 billion.

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?
By any measure, Google uses a boatload of power.  According to estimates, Google has around 900,000 servers in all its data centers based in world. Google’s data centers use around 260 million watts of power which accounts to 0.01% of global energy. 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 exempting municipal power companies from the requirement to report the amount of power used by their largest industrial customers.


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