April 24, 2024

The sweeping views across Washington’s densely populated western suburbs reveal open fields and farmland — a panorama often interrupted by huge, windowless buildings housing high-speed computers that enable 5G technologies such as artificial intelligence and artificial intelligence.

These data centers began to spread across the country, from Virginia to Oregon. Each has hundreds of servers and routers that send and receive data for everyday tasks such as streaming content on mobile devices and processing high-speed financial transactions.

“It’s the engine that powers the machine,” said Gordon Dolven, director of data center research for the Americas at CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm. “Everything on your phone is stored somewhere within four walls.”

Demand for data centers has increased rapidly over the past few years due to changes in work habits during the pandemic and the development of cloud-based technologies. That means more buildings, more land, more cooling systems and more power to support the physical infrastructure that runs 24/7.

Noelle Walsh, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of cloud innovation and operations, said technological advances will only increase the demand on data centers. “As a society, we’re just getting started,” she added.

But finding enough land to build a data center and enough power to run it can be a challenge. Developers must address community concerns about the megastructures, which are popping up next to residential developments and putting pressure on local electricity providers, which have been struggling to keep up with demand.

Northern Virginia is a major hub for data centers, in part because of its proximity to the major physical infrastructure that forms the foundation of the internet. Amazon this year announced plans to build multiple data centers in Virginia by 2040, with an estimated investment of $35 billion.

On the West Coast, there is a similar center near Silicon Valley. Sites in these two regions pass through most of the world’s Internet traffic, and they serve as important Internet conveyor belts.

Industry analysts say there is a growing need to build data centers in other parts of the country, part of an effort to bring data centers closer to customers and take advantage of the increasing availability of high-speed networks in rural areas and smaller cities.

According to statistics, by 2022, the United States will have 2,701 data centers, ranking first in the world, followed by Germany, which is far behind the second place, and then the United Kingdom and China. Data curated by Statista. In addition to the two coastal hubs, data centers in the US are concentrated around major cities from Atlanta to Seattle.

Large digital companies and the federal government often own and operate their own data centers. Other businesses and governments often lease space.

“Anyone who has access to someone else’s data center will do so,” said Jim Coakley, who develops, owns and manages high-security, high-density data centers. He constructed his first buildings in Northern Virginia nearly 20 years ago.

Loudoun County, Virginia, is a key location for data centers, but nearby Prince William County is also experiencing a boom. Elected officials in the area recently approved a major zoning change on the 2,100-acre site, paving the way for approximately 25 million square feet of new data centers.

The zoning decision was not without called digital gatewaythe parcel is near Manassas National Battlefield Park, director Concerns were expressed about “potential irreparable damage” to the site. Ann Wheeler, chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and a staunch supporter of zoning changes, lost her re-election bid in the Democratic primary last week after a grassroots movement called for her to step down, emphasizing her support for more data centers.

Data centers will increasingly be built farther from some traditional locations and closer to the customers they serve, according to research from IT consulting firm Gartner. But finding land isn’t always easy.

“Trying to find qualified land with enough power to support these facilities – you need 10 times the land I built in 2006,” Mr Coakley said. “They’re essentially sucking in a lot of energy.”

The demand for data centers is so great that once one is drawn on the drawing board, space is quickly snapped up, even before it hits the market.

“Every building that gets built is rented out,” said Ryan Goeller, a commercial real estate broker and KLNB principal who specializes in Northern Virginia. “There are no seats left.”

Still, energy demands are complicating economic growth in some parts of the country. Dominion Energy, the main power company used by the Virginia data center, said it was struggling to provide enough power. Some residents worry that data center needs in the area, such as building new power lines and substations, may be subsidized by residents.Silicon Valley faces similar challenges, according to a February report Report CB Richard Ellis.

Arman Shehabi, a researcher in the field of energy technology at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said that in order to reduce the demand for energy, the industry is striving to find greater efficiency.

“There’s been a lot of growth, but there’s also a lot of opportunity for efficiency and incentives to be more efficient,” he said. Pressure is mounting as major players in the data industry work to become greener over the next decade.

Dr Shihabi said the development of artificial intelligence “will require new efficiencies”. “At the moment it consumes a lot of electricity, but it’s unclear whether that will continue to be the case.”

Power demand and availability of skilled electricians drive many decisions regarding data center siting in 2022 CB Richard Ellis.

Other environmental concerns loom. Backup systems in data centers often rely on natural gas and diesel, which can hinder the development of clean energy. Water demand is also increasing, Dr Shihabi said.

“We have to be strategic about where we put our data centers and design them with the water stress levels in the area in mind,” he said.

The developer also faces resistance from neighbors. Alex Holt is a recently retired first grade teacher living in Gainesville, Virginia. She was surprised one morning when a large wall marking the start of a data center appeared just yards from her townhouse development. A developer promises a downtown. “Years passed and there was nothing there.”

The community was eventually informed that the town center was planned to be replaced by a data centre, but Ms Holt said she did not understand the scale of the project at the time. Then, this year, “I looked out the front door and there was this massive wall to my left, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is unbelievable,'” she said.

But others see an advantage in data centers. They provide a lot of business to the construction industry, especially electricians.

Joe Dabbs, business manager for Local 26, an international fraternity of electrical workers representing workers in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, said the jobs pay about $75 an hour and offer pension plans, but in many industries, Such pension schemes are a thing of the past. and most of Virginia. He estimates that half the work in data centers is done by electricians.

“We work seven days a week with multiple shifts,” he said.

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