Microsoft's $500M Iowa data center to use shipping containers

West Des Moines facility could be ready by late 2009

Microsoft Corp. said Thursday it will build its latest data center on a 42-acre site in a suburb of Iowa's capital of Des Moines, apparently spurred on by tax breaks and the lower costs of energy and doing business overall in the Midwestern state.

Rumored for months, the West Des Moines data center was officially announced today by Microsoft and state officials, and will employ 50 to 75 workers who will earn about $70,000 per year, the Des Moines Register newspaper reported.

The data center, like others in Microsoft's fast-growing collection, will host online consumer services such as Hotmail, Live Search and other Windows Live apps.

Expected to take 12 to 18 months to build, the West Des Moines facility is the fifth data center that Microsoft has announced in the past year. Others are in Chicago; Quincy, Wash.; San Antonio and Dublin.

A Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed that Microsoft plans to house the servers in shipping containers but declined to comment specifically on the size of the facility or the number of servers to be located there.

"We are still in the process of completing the design of the center. Once that is finalized, we will have an estimate for these questions," she wrote via e-mail.

However, Microsoft said its $500 million, 550,000-square-foot data center in Chicago will house up to 220 containers, each filled with as many as 2,000 servers, or 440,000 servers. The software maker said the server-filled containers are easier to transport, set up and maintain than servers on conventional racks, though not all observers agree.

According to the Associated Press, Michael Manos, Microsoft's general manager of data services, said Microsoft chose Iowa because of the state's workforce and its access to telecommunications infrastructure.

The Register also reported that Iowa Gov. Chet Culver wooed Microsoft with recently signed tax incentives on computer equipment, cooling towers and electricity that are worth up to $3 million a year.

Des Moines ranks among the 10 lowest-cost locations nationally for data centers, according to a consultant's study cited by the newspaper. Moreover, nearby universities such as Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska-Omaha have "National Security Agency-recognized computer assurance programs" that teach workers "how to defend against hackers."

Meanwhile, Google Inc. is building a $600 million data center 122 miles west of Des Moines, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a small city close to Omaha. The data center will employ about 200 IT workers, the Register reported.

Microsoft's Iowa facility won't have that many employees, but it may employ twice as many as the 35 employees expected in Chicago.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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