Big data centers raise tech profile of central Oregon

Big data centers raise tech profile of central Oregon
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's new data center in Prineville, Ore. in 2011.

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (AP) - With Facebook's first data center in Prineville up and running and a second being built next door, local officials are looking to cement central Oregon as a hub for data centers.

It just may be working. Apple has plans to open a small data center nearby, and bought 160 acres from the city of Prineville for $5.6 million in February, The Bend Bulletin reported Sunday.

Another data center - code-named Jasper - is in the works, but power utility and economic development officials will not say what company is involved.

"We are just in the window where companies could make a decision," said Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon.

But central Oregon's ability to keep up its developing reputation as a data center hub will depend on whether its power, fiber optic lines and water systems can support the burgeoning industry. Industry representatives and local officials say Prineville can.

Depending on the size of the data center, it may use anywhere from two to 100 megawatts, Lee said.

Data centers using 100 megawatts of power use as much as five cities the size of Prineville. While there aren't any that big here yet, there eventually will be, Lee said, although declining to say what companies are showing interest.

Part of the appeal for data centers in Central Oregon is that there is plenty of power available, with the Bonneville Power Administration's main transmission line crossing through on its way to California.

The line is like an electrical interstate carrying power from dams and wind farms along the Columbia River Gorge southward. Tapping into that power requires beefed up transmission lines between the main line and data centers.

Without the improvements, the data centers wouldn't get the power they needed to run their computers.

Ongoing construction at the nearby Ponderosa substation by the Bonneville Power Administration, PacifiCorp and the Central Electric Cooperative will also increase the power supply for the Facebook data centers, as well as Apple's planned data center. And there will be power to spare.

Executives and other representatives of telecommunications companies said they can readily meet the fiber optic needs of data centers coming to Prineville, and the massive amounts of data the centers send over the lines will not slow service for other customers.

At least four companies - CenturyLink, BendBroadband, Quantum Communications and Level 3 - have fiber lines into Prineville.

The current Facebook data center uses less water than other existing industries in the area. But officials are expecting added demand.

Prineville City Engineer Eric Klann and others are working to ensure the city has enough water to support the full build-out of its urban growth boundary for at least 20 years, in addition to incoming businesses like data centers.

Prineville's situation in a dry caldera has left it reaching for alternative groundwater sources. But an untapped underground aquifer stands to alter the city's dim prospects for a plentiful future water supply.

Klann said drilling under way above the aquifer near the Prineville airport has produced encouraging results just within the last several weeks.

 

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)