The Columbia River Gorge is one of the northwestern United States' crown jewels, a national scenic area of breathtaking river spans, steep canyons, and waterfalls, all surrounded by the snow-capped Cascade mountain range. In the midst of it all is a gleaming Google data center.
While on vacation in the area recently, I hiked on the 11,249-foot Mt. Hood, went white water rafting on the Deschutes River, which feeds into the Columbia, and trekked through national forest. I also paid a visit to Google's data center in The Dalles, a town of about 12,500 people that sits on the Oregon side of the Columbia, about 80 miles east of Portland.
By some accounts, The Dalles was the last stop on the Oregon Trail. Today, it's probably best known for its dam, a massive structure that rises 26 stories and spans more than a mile across the Columbia. Electricity generated by the dam feeds Google's server farms a couple of miles downstream.
Google's data center, which went into operation about two years ago, is on the western edge of town in an industrial area known as Port of The Dalles. An 8-foot fence secures Google's compound, which includes two data center facilities, an administrative building, a security entrance, and various other buildings. I e-mailed Google asking for a tour, but my request was denied. So I walked the perimeter.
This is prime, pristine land. A paved trail adjacent to Google's complex runs along the Columbia, where water fowl nest in tall grass on the river bank. Joggers and bikers are drawn to the area for its vistas of the surrounding mountains, river traffic, and, on the other side of the Columbia, Washington state.
To be sure, this isn't exactly a gated community. Google's neighbors include an asphalt plant, county jail, and dog shelter. But it's one of the most impressive locations for a data center that you'll find. A national scenic data center, literally.
In fact, the Columbia River is home to a number of data centers. Eighty miles to the east, in Boardman, Ore., Amazon began construction on its own data center. That project was recently put on hold.
To see a photo gallery of Google's Oregon data center, click here.
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