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  • Writer's pictureFred

Killing the Earth One Data Center at a Time

I came across an intriguing article at BuzzFeed News:

Operation Tulip: Inside Facebook’s Secretive Push To Build Holland’s Biggest Data Center

Now my missive is from a very unique perspective, I used to work at Iron Mountain in the Data Storage Business.


I had only worked at Iron Mountain for a year when September 11th happened. I remember picking up hundreds and hundreds of data tapes in the basement of a Fortune 500 company as the Twin Towers burned on the giant big screen televisions in the background. I believe the customer asked me to be extra careful with their data that day.

Twenty years later, according to our BOS partner Ted, that same customer rotates 10-20 tapes daily. 8 of 10 of Iron Mountain's biggest customers, who rotated thousands of data tapes daily, have primarily moved their computing systems into the cloud.

But what exactly does that mean in the real world? Ted used to ask me all the time where the "cloud" was. Another co-worker couldn't understand how a wire plugged into a cloud. Ignore my ex-coworker's question about cirrocumulus physical dimensions and let's focus on Ted's question. In the old days, every computer had a physical backup, whether it be a reel, tape, or disc. Over the last generation, companies have simply moved their backups from a physical representation to another computer system. The cloud is just the insides of a different set of computer servers.

Now back in the dark ages, computers and IT departments used to reside in the basements of every multinational corporation in this nation because the computers couldn't overheat, they needed to be in the coolest part of the building, which was usually the basement. But over the years, many companies downsized their IT departments to save money and outsourced their computing needs to Data Centers. It was much cheaper for a company to pay a subcontracted Data Center to handle their business than their own own employees.

I haven't been inside of a Data Center in 5 years, but I can't imagine that much has changed. Level upon layer of security, a Command Center, and servers as far as the eye can see. There are nearly no amenities and there's hundreds of thousands of cables across the ceilings and under the false floors. Usually there's a few humans mulling around, but outside of the Command Center, Data Centers are mostly vacant.

That is why Buzzfeed's article is so curious. The way to make money in the Data Center game is not to buy up land in the Dutch countryside, it's to utilize property deep in the heart of urban centers. Retrofit an old abandoned mall, re-purpose an out dated building, or buy up sections of gutted suburban industrial parks. Somewhere where there's an established infrastructure.

Not that far from my home in Cleveland, Ohio, there's a stretch of highway that opened last year in a post-industrial section of the city called the Forgotten Triangle. Cleveland built a quarter of a billion dollar highway, BEGGING a company to build something like a Data Center along their so-called Opportunity Corridor, not that far from one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.

In the BuzzFeed article, though, the author correctly points out that for the square footage, a Data Center isn't really a great deal for a small city, let alone one in a rural landscape.

Data Centers, like the one Facebook proposed, suck up enough energy to power a small town, use millions of gallons of water a day to cool their servers, and typically provide few jobs. - BuzzFeed

But when you're Facebook and you are swimming in capital, you make outlandish demands, including hiding your identity to make real estate purchases in tax havens. Every time the "cloud" grows, server housing grows.

The infrastructure is there for Data Centers to easily assimilate into decaying urban centers such as Cleveland, Detroit, or St. Louis. Actually, many of the largest cities in the Rust Belt are equipped to handle the resources a Data Center requires from their milk and honey days. And cities would welcome Data Centers because they come without the negative pollution aspect that would have drawn local opposition generations ago. If you started building Data Centers throughout the countryside, you are simply killing the Earth one Data Center at a time.


Just an aside, last week I submitted my work for the Pulitzer in Commentary. Last year I lost to 3 partisan hacks and was steamed. The BuzzFeed article was written by Aman Sethi and if you told me I lost the Pulitzer to him for the Data Center article, I'd be, like, of course I did, he's a really good writer with tremendous insight and did thorough research on a topic happening in real time.

Honestly, if BuzzFeed caught me on the wrong day of the week and asked me to write about the Facebook DataCenter, I wouldn't have done as complete of a job as Sethi in regards to laying out the topic. If my editor asked me: "Why in the world would you put a Data Center in the Dutch countryside?"

I would reply: "Because Mark Zuckerberg is an arrogant asshole."

End of article.

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