Rampant unemployment has a new hero in data centers. The industry is gaining momentum as more businesses explore establishing data center functions. Data centers are growing exponentially based on the rise in e-commerce, media content storage and distribution, and the proliferation of cloud computing that requires putting more of a company's assets on storage servers in secure data centers.

But as with any developing technology, there have been adjustments along the way where promise meets reality and flexibility demands adaptability. “The IT team is on a flurry of a pace,” says Pete Sacco, president and CEO, PTS Data Center Solutions Inc., located in Franklin Lakes, N.J. “Whereas the facilities are on a much slower adaptation of what happens in the real world with the speed of support infrastructure.”

Now the trick is to deploy air conditioning in such a way to accommodate a variety of factors such as different sized servers and routers using different levels of power, Sacco says. “We have to evaluate designs which are no longer static but now are meeting fairly dynamic environments, and adapt traditional design techniques with some esoteric modern approaches,” he says. “I think we have to understand all of these technologies and how to apply them in a scalable modular difference.”

Who's On First?

As promising as they seem, data centers — usually huge warehouse-sized buildings needing large fiber optic pipelines, water and sewage handling at an enormous scale, and cheap electricity — may not be the saving grace to a region's economic development that they appear to be.

Take Caldwell County in North Carolina for example, where the outsourcing and loss of furniture and textile factories over the years has resulted in double digit unemployment that is going on three years now.

The Caldwell County area is called the data corridor, says Deborah Murray, president and CEO, Caldwell County 20/20 in Hudson, and it started when Google's data center opened for business in Lenoir in 2007. Apple's $1 billion, 500,000-square-foot data center is nearby in Maiden.

The newest data center is Facebook's, announced in 2010 in Rutherford County. Facebook has completed the physical structure for Building 1, a 350,000-square-foot facility. Building 2, announced in the fall, will be identical in size, says Tom Johnson, executive vice president of AdvantageWest Economic Development Group, which markets 23 western counties in North Carolina.

But Murray says it is time to take a reality check. “Data centers are not a trade off for furniture factories,” she says. “Furniture factories employ a lot more people on the same acreage. From the curb you would expect a lot more employees if they were equal. But they are not.” What data centers do for Caldwell County, she says, is broaden its capacity to compete within the global economy. “Companies like Google like the quality of life, the electricity rates, the water rates here,” she says. “And the folks who value those things also value being on this ocean of data stream that Google makes possible. It's a good incentive for others to come.” [More]