Rolling into Redmond, Ore., as part of a Facebook-led tour of its new data center in nearby Prineville was like stepping into an episode of "Leave it to Beaver." Airport employees greeted people warmly and even TSA agents sent folks off with a cheery, "Have a good day!"
Facebook will tell you it's been an economic gift to this rural area of central Oregon. Some people who make their homes here are quick to agree.
"They are bringing jobs. We love Facebook," exclaimed Sandy Pupo, a 61-year-old resident who works part time in an airport gift shop.
(You can see a video tour of the Facebook facility here.)
But Prineville's enthusiasm could be due to it being such a new player in the Northwest data center game. About five hours away, across the border in Washington, some residents of another rural Northwestern U.S. town don't feel as happy about data centers.
"My house looks out toward the Beasley Hills and it's a rare day that you can see those clearly now," said Patty Martin, who is concerned about pollution in Quincy since six companies began operating data centers there, with construction beginning in 2006. Martin served as Quincy's mayor from 1993 to 1997. She is leading an effort to challenge the environmental practices of some of the data centers in Quincy, claiming particulate from diesel running backup generators has an adverse effect on public health. There are six data centers in town, run by Sabey, Dell, Microsoft, Vantage, Yahoo, and Intuit. Martin and other supporters have filed complaints with the state against Microsoft, Yahoo, Dell, and Sabey's Intergate facility.
The difference between public opinion in Quincy and Prineville may come down to a concerted effort in environmentally friendly data center design, a shift that's only recently become popular.
"In the olden days, two or three years ago, it was redundancy that [technology companies were] looking at," said Ken Patchett, the Facebook data center manager in Prineville. "Today, we're looking at resiliency."
Facebook has been able to save money by designing the airflow in its Prineville facility to take advantage of the climate's cool temperatures, a major draw for companies looking to build in the Pacific Northwest. One of the largest expenses in traditionally built data centers is from the energy it takes to keep the servers from overheating. Facebook has also redesigned its server racks and electrical components to use less energy, just another environmental friendly bit of design that also saves the company money.
Data center analysts believe the shift in data center design is a fairly new phenomenon coming from a handful of tech companies, specifically those with the capital to invest in building new data centers. Facebook reported that it spent more than $600 million on data centers and servers in 2011.
"The benefit is if you put the efficiency in at the design point, not after the fact, there's a lot more to gain," said Rick Villars, vice president of data center design and cloud research at IDC. "A few big players are defining those changes and the industry will have to respond to that."
Prineville and Quincy are among the most popular U.S. locations for data centers, according to Rachel Dines, senior analyst at Forrester Research. The climate, power costs and tax breaks make them highly desirable.