Google: 38 Generators at Iowa Data Center

Google's new data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa will use 38 diesel generators to keep servers online in the event of a grid outage.

How much backup power is needed to support Google's massive data centers? The company's new facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa will use 38 diesel generators to keep Google's servers online in the event of a grid outage. That's the most generators we've seen at any single data center complex, eclipsing the 32 generators at a huge new Ashburn, Va. site where DuPont Fabros is hosting Facebook and Yahoo.

Google (GOOG) is spending $600 million to build the data center in Council Bluffs, which is scheduled to open in early 2009. Google is famously secretive about its data center operations, which has stoked speculation about the scope of the facilities and the equipment inside them. It's long been rumored that both Google and Microsoft use large numbers of 2 megawatt diesel generators to support their data centers, but the exact numbers have never been quantified.

But an alert reader noted that Iowa State Air Quality Bureau web site posts construction permits for equipment with regulated emissions, such as diesel generators. A project by Tetra LLC has received permits for 38 generators at an address in Council Bluffs that corresponds with Google's new facility. The same project also has permits for 30 cooling modules.

Like most new Google data center builds, the Council Bluffs site will include at least two data centers, the costs of which are included in the overall project budget of $600 million. Last month we noted reports that several Google data center buildings appear to be approximately 100,000 square feet in size, suggesting a construction and equipment cost approaching $3,000 a square foot.

The Iowa site is one of four new data centers Google is building in the U.S., with other sites in Lenoir, North Carolina; Goose Creek, South Carolina and Pryor, Oklahoma. That construction schedule, along with the 38 generators in Council Bluffs, is among the reasons why there are lengthy backlogs for 2 megawatt generators. It also provides some context for a recent comment from Nick Carr, who cites a rumor that "Microsoft and Google have locked up a significant portion of Caterpillar's production for the foreseeable future." If you're buying 38 generators per site and building four to six sites a year, I'm guessing you're pretty tight with your Caterpillar account rep.

There are plenty of other factors in the generator backlog, including strong demand from India and China as well as active data center construction programs by Digital Realty Trust (DLR), Equinix (EQIX), Terremark (TMRK), Savvis (SVVS) and DuPont Fabros (DFT).

Google's heavy investment in generators reinforces the importance of data centers in the company's ambitions. The Google data centers serve as the platform for the company's web-based services and advertising products. Google (GOOG) sees its data centers as its business edge, and is seeking to extend its competitive advantage with an extraordinary level of investment.