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Why did Facebook pick Virginia for its new data centre?

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced last week that Facebook will build a 970,000 sq ft data centre in the White Oak Technology Park located in Henrico County.

The structure and compound will run up to US$750mn in costs, with an additional US$250mn to set up solar power generation facilities to electrify the data centre.

The latter is made possible by a renewable energy tariff agreement between Facebook and major power company, Dominion Energy.

“The Henrico Data Centre will be one of the most advanced, energy-efficient data centres in the world,” Facebook’s Director of Data Centre Strategy, Rachel Peterson said.

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The complex will become the eighth data centre the social media giant has in operation within the US.

It is not yet known precisely where the solar facilities will be located, but they will be in Virginia.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership will give Facebook US$19mn in tax exemptions and the project is expected to create 100 full-time jobs, in addition to more than 2,400 temporary construction jobs

Facebook is not the first tech company to make its home at the White Oak Technology Park – Infineon Technologies was induced there in the 1990s after Henrico County spent US$40mn on the site –  and this history was key to enticing the company to Virginia.

Infineon has since closed but its assets remain. First, thinking that the county might attract other semiconductor plants, the county had oversized its water and sewer lines.

Thus, White Oak had 10mn gallons a day of excess water capacity and 13mn gallons of sewer capacity — more than enough to handle the estimated 3.5mn gallons-per-day needed to cool Facebook’s servers.

Second, the park was well supplied with fibre optic trunk lines. In addition, Virginia Beach is home to three separate transatlantic cables.

Third, the park is served by dual feed power. Dominion delivers electricity to the park via two transmission lines.

If one line shuts down for whatever reason, the other will keep the park supplied with electricity.

While designed to meet the specifications of the semiconductor plant, the redundancy fits the needs of the data centre industry as well.

Data centres are also notoriously power hungry and the centre, just outside Richmond, will conserve energy by incorporating outdoor air and "direct evaporative cooling systems."

“Access to clean energy is joining reliability and price as important considerations when businesses decide to locate their operations,” said Robert M. Blue, president and CEO of Dominion Energy’s Power Delivery Group. 

“We are pleased we have been able to develop a solution for Facebook that meets all those requirements and creates a model that can be used by other large businesses as well.

“It opens the door to attracting more businesses and more jobs for the communities we serve.”

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