Cheap and Reliable Power Nurtures Server Farms
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And while we don't often think about the physical aspects of the Internet, all that computing power requires lots of space and electricity. NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN: Debra Chrapaty, who's in charge of computing infrastructure for Microsoft's Online Services, says, some people think of all that stuff as being held in the clouds.
DEBRA CHRAPATY: Well, it's not really a cloud. We love the concept of it. It goes up into the sky. Some people go, is it a satellite dish or what is it? No, no, no, it's not. The cloud is just an analogy for server farms.
KAUFMAN: Years ago, when most information was stored on home or office PCs, we didn't need vast amounts of shared storage or the ability to move it around quickly. But now we do. And companies like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo, are erecting huge buildings to house the computing and networking equipment to do it.
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MONTAGNE: each building roughly the size of eight football fields.
TERRY BREWER: You can see a lot of large earth moving equipment. They've moved thousands of tons of earth over the past two months to...
KAUFMAN: Terry Brewer is executive director of Grant County's Economic Development Council.
BREWER: Unknown Man: Louie(ph), we're going to pile it up over here! Never mind. Yeah, you're good.
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KAUFMAN: The biggest factor driving these companies to locate in the Pacific Northwest, is cheap and reliable power. At the computing centers at the University of Washington in Seattle, you can get a sense of just how much power they need.
ED LAZOWSKA: This is the smallest computer facility I'll show you.
KAUFMAN: Ed Lazowska, a senior professor of computer science, shows off racks and racks of equipment, six feet tall.
LAZOWSKA: Those racks have little, inch-and-a-quarter-tall units in them, and each of those units has a set of computers. You can feel it's plenty hot. You can see there's an enormous air conditioner off to the side. So, about 25 homes worth of power consumed by this little 2-foot by 3-foot footprint.
KAUFMAN: Water from the mighty Columbia River flows through the Pacific Northwest, producing hydropower and some of the least expensive electricity in the country. Here in Grant County, it's especially cheap. The reason? Gary Garnant, of the County Public Utility District, explains that more than half a century ago, farmers and civic leaders decided to build two of their own dams on the Columbia.
GARY GARNANT: It was an amazing step, because at the time, Grant County was so small in terms of people and resources, the idea of building a major dam on the Columbia River became almost a laughable thing. The state said it couldn't be done. Other utilities tried to band together and take it away. It ended up to be quite a fight.
KAUFMAN: The Idle Hour CafÃÂ© is Quincy's nicest restaurant, and owner-chef Gene Rosenberger sees and hears a lot. These days, the talk of the town is development.
GENE ROSENBERGER: Everybody's talking about Microsoft, and it's nice to see some diversity in the income and the spending power within the town. It's just phenomenal that a small community can generate interest from these huge companies, to come in and spend money and build their facilities here. It's pretty cool.
KAUFMAN: Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.
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