September 8, 2009
Amazon.com has confirmed that a major data center under construction on the Columbia River in Oregon belongs to the company. Work at the site, however, has quietly come to a halt.
Until now, Amazon's involvement in the data center project at the Port of Morrow, a 9,000-acre industrial complex in Boardman, Ore., has been largely a matter of speculation. The company listed as the data center's owner is Vadata Inc., an obscure company without even a Web site. Recently, after an investigation by InformationWeek, Amazon confirmed that Vadata is a legal entity of Amazon, lifting some of the mystery around Vadata and establishing Amazon's involvement in the new data center.
The Oregonian reported in November that plans called for the project to be carried out over six phases, starting with the construction of a 116,700-square-foot building to be followed by two more on the 60-acre site. The newspaper, quoting an official of the Port of Morrow, put construction costs at $35 million. DataCenterKnowledge.com estimated the project at $100 million, presumably factoring in the cost of computers and other equipment.
A recent visit to the site at the Port of Morrow, revealed a sprawling industrial park where some two dozen agricultural and manufacturing companies have facilities with access to the Columbia River, a rail line, and Interstate 84. Both the local Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Morrow confirmed that the data center's construction had been halted until sometime next year. They cited economic conditions as the reason for the delay.
When asked about the status of the project, a spokeswoman for Amazon said only that "we continuously evaluate the requirements for our infrastructure capacity and are judicious in our investment decisions." She said Amazon generally doesn't disclose information on the locations of its data centers for security reasons and, as a matter of policy, declined to comment on "rumors and speculation."
The exact nature of Amazon's relationship with Vadata is unclear. A company identified as "Amazon.com Vadata Inc." already operates a Virginia data center in which Amazon is reportedly a tenant. Reports surfaced in June that Amazon was adding 110,000 square feet of leased data center capacity in Virginia. It's conceivable that Amazon has made the Washington DC market a higher priority to support anticipated demand for its cloud computing services from government agencies.
Data center construction is a capital-intensive undertaking, and Amazon is not alone in reassessing its plans. Google, Microsoft, and Terremark have all delayed or postponed data center projects in the past 12 months, according to DataCenterKnowledge.com.
For now, Amazon's Oregon data center sits idle at the end of newly paved road that's now blocked to traffic. Its neighbors at the Port of Morrow include RDO Calbee Foods' potato-processing plant and Reklaim Technologies' tire recycling facility.
Amazon's site, surrounded by an eight-foot fence topped with barbed wire, is located approximately three-quarters of a mile from the Columbia. The only activity during my visit was a backhoe digging a trench. The building is a partially completed shell and appeared to be empty, with no servers, cooling systems, or other equipment visible.
For more, see our photo galleyof Amazon's data center in Oregon.
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