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8/24/2007
11:36 AM
John Foley
John Foley
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Google In Oregon: Mother Nature Meets The Data Center

I just got back from a week's vacation in Oregon, where the highlights included a hike up Mt. Hood, fishing in the Deschutes River canyon, and a county fair where goats competed in an obstacle course. There also was the magnificent Columbia River Gorge -- and, on the banks of the Columbia, Google's expansive new data center complex.

I just got back from a week's vacation in Oregon, where the highlights included a hike up Mt. Hood, fishing in the Deschutes River canyon, and a county fair where goats competed in an obstacle course. There also was the magnificent Columbia River Gorge -- and, on the banks of the Columbia, Google's expansive new data center complex.To keep up with its explosive growth, Google is building data centers off the beaten path, in places like Lenoir, N.C.; Mount Holly, S.C.; and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Its 30-acre facility in The Dalles, Ore., is the most recent of them to be completed and put into operation. The complex is impossible to miss in The Dalles, a town of about 12,000 that proved the perfect location, given its hydroelectric dam, affordable land, a 15-year tax incentive, and fiber optic loop. I took a walk around the facility early one morning with a cup of coffee in one hand and camera in the other; it was easy to see why Google likes it there. (See photos here.)

Google's computer infrastructure is sucking up so much power and casting off so much heat that power consumption and cooling have, of necessity, become an obsession at the company. Massive air-cooling systems rise above two data center buildings, which are so close to The Dalles' dam you can almost hear the water roar. An industrial-strength power grid connects the dam to Google's energy-sucking, heat-spewing Linux servers.

After getting approval in early 2005 from The Dalles' port commissioners to buy the 30-acre site for $1.87 million, Google was somewhat secretive about its plans. Even today, there's no sign out front, though any local resident can point out the facility, which is impossible to miss anyway. Google's neighbors in the area: an animal shelter on one side, asphalt company on the other, and a correctional facility down the road. There's also 4.5 acres for sale right next door. Don't be surprised to see a Google partner or tech company grab it.

More recently, Google officials have begun to open up to the community. Two editors from The Dalles Chronicle recently were invited to visit the facility. According to the Chronicle, Google's altruism includes providing IT help desk support to the local fire department and library, and it's working with local firms to explore the feasibility of a new 911 call center.

Based on tidbits of information released by Google, it looks like the company spends about $600 million to build a major data center, requiring a staff of 100 to 200 to operate. In The Dalles, the investment and new jobs have been a boost to the local economy, reflected in rising home values. Google's leaving its options open for expansion: The company reportedly has purchase options and first rights of refusal on several other land parcels in the area.

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