FEATURE-Americans on high alert as noisy data centers near their neighborhoods

* Data center developers seek cheaper land and labor

* Getting closer to users can reduce online delays

* The spread of the industry poses a dilemma for local officials

By Carey L. Biron WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — When a global data center company moved to a former solar panel factory just outside Portland, Oregon, three years, it was surrounded by farmland and open spaces.

Today, it’s surrounded by newly built data centers — sprawling warehouses housing the digital storage, applications, and processing that power swathes of the internet. “Now there are four data center providers literally building across the street,” said Steven Lim, senior vice president of NTT Global Data Centers, of the company’s Hillsboro complex. .

The city is a far cry from the data centers of Southern California and Northern Virginia, but it is part of a rapid national expansion, driven by the search for cheaper land and running costs that is reaching smaller towns. In addition to lowering costs, the shift to smaller, more local data centers is closing demand gaps among users as more people work from home, according to a report released last year by the data firm. KPMG consultancy.

Being close to users can reduce lag, for example in online gaming applications or sensitive future uses, a goal that also fuels a deeper parallel push in dense urban areas such as Los Angeles. But as data center operators look to their cities, local authorities are scrambling to find ways to balance potential revenue gains with community concerns about land use, noise and additional consumption. water and electricity.

“I don’t think America knew what data centers were going to evolve into,” said Kevin Mayo, a planning administrator in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, which initially hosted the industry but has since raised questions about the boom. As Chandler’s roughly 10 data centers switched from water to electricity — and diesel backups — to cool their operations, noise complaints from people living nearby began to rise, Mayo said.

Now the city council has put the brakes on new operations, as the Mayo office scrambles to update regulations on noise control and other issues. “Data centers are changing, and our approach and land use regulations for them are changing with them,” Mayo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

ZOOM CALLS, SOCIAL MEDIA The United States was home to around 2,600 data centers last year – a third of the global total, according to figures cited by the US International Trade Commission, in a global market set to nearly double from 2020 to 90 billions of dollars by mid-decade.

Data center growth is supported by how the pandemic has supercharged online activity and especially video, triggering an increase in Zoom calls, photo sharing and social media usage. “Everything we do creates a greater need for data centers – they are this invisible thing, and between your phone and video conferencing, all of this creates a greater and greater need for the expansion of what we do,” Lim said.

The boom has brought significant local investment and a major new source of tax revenue to data center hotspots. In Virginia, the centers accounted for 62% of all new investment last year, supporting 45,000 jobs and creating more than $15 billion in economic output, according to the Northern Virginia Technology Council, a trade group.

Yet these operations come with significant costs: Together, data centers use about 2% of the nation’s electricity, according to the Department of Energy, while a typical facility sucks up millions of gallons of water. to cool the servers per year. NOISY NEIGHBORS

For local authorities, the downside may be more immediate. In the community of Great Oak, Prince William County, Virginia, a data center in a new complex operated by Amazon Web Services is just 180 meters (600 feet) from homes and is proving to be a noisy neighbor , said Dale Browne, president of the local owners. ‘ association.

While testing since July has found the center routinely violates a county noise ordinance, the decades-old rule exempts cooling and heating systems because it was written with residential units in mind, Browne said. “People can’t use their backyards,” he said, adding that local residents now regularly meet with the company seeking a solution.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) said it was “devoting significant engineering and resources to identifying noise reduction measures,” including installing initial shrouds around the cooling systems. “Resolving the noise issues of our neighbors in Prince William County is a priority for us,” Tim Hall, vice president of AWS infrastructure operations for the Americas, said in a statement, adding that the company was always striving to reduce its energy and water consumption.

Prince William is currently debating a major increase in the number of data centers he would allow, with a vote among county officials scheduled for November 1. Yet opposition to further development is also growing among county residents.

John W. Lyver, a retired NASA spaceflight safety officer, conducted acoustic analyzes at proposed sites in the county, estimating that one neighborhood would see noise levels of 73 decibels, equivalent to to live next to a busy highway. A school would see even higher levels. The county is reviewing its noise ordinance to see if any changes are needed, said Rachel Johnson, Prince William’s acting communications director.

Recognizing the need to build more data centers, Browne said it’s about finding the right balance. “We have to find a place to put them where they get the electricity and the water…that they need, but also to coexist with the neighborhoods.”

Originally posted at: https://www.context.news/money-power-people/americans-on-alert-as-noisy-data-centers-near-their-neighborhoods

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Ramon J. Espinoza