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International Interest Drives Demand For Seattle Data Centers, Puts On Pressure For More Innovative Designs

As Seattle has boomed, so has its market for data centers. Looking ahead, data center growth will continue here, according to the speakers at our Seattle Data Center event Thursday — because of both the region's location and natural advantages, but also because of international interest in the market and the growth of artificial intelligence.

Savills Studley managing director Marcelo Garces, who moderated the State of Data Centers panel, Bytegrid chief revenue officer Drew Fassett, H5 Data Centers chief operating officer David Dunn and Sabey Data Centers CEO John Sabey

The Seattle data center market has had its ups and downs in recent years, our panelists said, but it is on an upswing. There are a number of reasons for this. The Pacific Northwest is one of the top five data markets in the country, which is partly the result of the local tech boom in Seattle, with the likes of Amazon and Microsoft not only creating more jobs, but also attracting more tech companies and innovators of all kinds, including those in the data center industry. 

Seattle especially has an advantageous location, with its many land links to the rest of North America, and sea cable links to Asia. The climate is ideal for data centers in terms of providing free cooling, and power is inexpensive. The relative disadvantage of higher taxes (in Washington state) has been outweighed by these other considerations.

All of these factors are driving international interest in Pacific Northwest data centers. End users from all over, but especially the other side of the Pacific, are coming to Seattle for their data center needs. 

DPR Construction national advanced technology market group leader Mark Thompson, who moderated, LinkedIn global critical infrastructure engineer Ileana Aquino-Otero, Jacobs principal Kevin Olsavsky and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center director of facilities Robert Cowan

Over the past 10 years, data center design has evolved, with an emphasis on making systems more efficient and more dense, our data center design speakers said. That is partly driven by improvements in technology, but also by how end users want their data handled. Hybrid setups are more common as companies migrate data to both leased co-location facilities and the public cloud.

Data centers are operating at higher temperatures and using more economizer cycles, both water- and air-side economizers. By driving up the temperature, operators can increase the number of hours a year they operate on the economizer and get the benefit of free cooling.

Speed to market is driving design as well. Companies want resilient data centers, but they also want their data centers right away. There is a need to innovate when it comes to developing new centers, but there are also very tight timelines, either for adding new suites, or for whole sites. Learning to build facilities more quickly is more important than ever, though not moving so fast that innovation in design is ignored. It is a balancing act. 

Intel Corp director, data science and analytics Melvin Greer

Intel Corp. director of data science and analytics Melvin Greer spoke about artificial intelligence, which he said will change everything about building, sharing and using data — and how data centers are operated. 

Why is AI important to data centers? For one thing, operators will use AI to analyze the data flowing through their facilities to make more intelligent design and operational decisions. It is already happening: Google bought Deep Mind to run its data centers, using advanced analytics. Power usage efficiency, which was about 70% to 80%, is now 98.7%.

That is only the beginning, Greer said. Data is the new oil, and algorithms are the new refineries to turn that into gasoline and kerosine. Data centers will be increasingly in demand as AI transforms the world.