Data Centers Find Wyoming Fast, Cool and Affordable

Plentiful, fast broadband; low energy costs; and cool, dry weather make Wyoming a powerful draw for data center investment. Low tax rates and a portfolio of incentives add to the state’s attractiveness.

By
Pamela Coyle
On Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 12:04
Plentiful, fast broadband, coupled with low energy costs and cool, dry weather, make Wyoming a powerful draw for data center investment. Low tax rates and a portfolio of incentives add to the state’s attractiveness. The combination has put the Cowboy State on the leading edge of data center development, with Microsoft considering an expansion to its new $112 million data center and the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Wyoming Supercomputing Center seeing a big demand from researchers. Home-grown companies are expanding, too. Cheyenne-based Green House Data partnered with New Jersey-based 1547 Critical Systems on a 35,000-square-foot expansion that will more than triple its state footprint when it opens in spring 2014. Green House Data, which also has co-location centers in Portland, Ore., and Newark, N.J., needed more room and checked out San Jose, Calif., Chicago and Dallas, as well as sites in Iowa and Nebraska. It stayed in Wyoming. “We were running out of space,” says Shawn Mills, Green House president. “We would not have expanded in Wyoming if the government entities weren’t favorable to entrepreneurs and high-growth companies – and focused on growing business.” Robust State Incentives A renewable energy credit program is the newest state incentive, and Green House was the first company to take part. Wyoming also offers a Managed Data Center Cost Reduction Grant Program, which provides:
  • Up to $2.25 million over three years to reimburse utility costs for power or broadband
  • A sales tax exemption for projects with at least $5 million in capital and $2 million equipment investments
  • A state environmental permit cost exemption for mega-centers
Cities, towns and counties also have access to grants to offset the cost of building public infrastructure to help recruit and retain data centers. “We are highly competitive,” says Brandon Marshall, director of new business recruitment at the Wyoming Business Council. “A lot of states are passing credits for data centers, but we already have a track record.” Location is a big factor, too. Wyoming is not in hurricane, tornado or earthquake zones. “It is one of the safest places in America to host data,” Mills says. Mild Climate, Low Energy Costs Demand for disaster recovery storage fuels some increased interest, but Wyoming’s mild climate and low power costs remain top draws. Data centers require huge amounts of power, both to keep stacks of servers humming and to cool facilities for optimal performance. Wyoming weather supports evaporative cooling, a key feature at Green House Data and the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center, which includes Yellowstone, a cluster of high-performance supercomputing processors, a massive data archiving facility and a special system for visualizing scientific data. “Yellowstone routinely draws over a megawatt – about the same as about 1,000 Wyoming homes,” says Rich Loft, director of technology development for the Computational and Information Systems Laboratory at NCAR. “Evaporative cooling is a key factor enabling the NWSC to achieve high energy efficiency, as are utility costs compared to other parts of the country.” Wind-generated power, plus evaporative cooling and other design elements, keep Green House's energy costs about 40 percent lower than the industry average. The company distinguished itself further by adding a 100-gig circuit in 2013. Microsoft, Green House and the supercomputing center are in Cheyenne, as is Mountain West Technology Network and EchoStar Broadcasting Corp., both of which have data centers. The Wyoming Technology Business Center, at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, is home to a data center that leases space to private companies. Sheridan-based Ptolemy Data Systems won a 2013 Laureate from the Computerworld Information Technology Awards Foundation for its role in creating a statewide telemedicine network to bring medical and psychiatric care to isolated communities in Wyoming. The news sparked more sector interest in Sheridan, which had its own booth at the Data Center World conference in Orlando in October 2013. Interest is broad, too, in the Supercomputing Center, which is 30 times larger than NCAR’s previous system, and has already run 11 large-scale experiments. “The results – in terms of understanding the connections between climate and weather, how future climate will affect air quality, and how the sun’s photosphere works – are really exciting,” Loft says. He also credits Wyoming’s state government and business community, as well as the University of Wyoming. “They have been agile, focused, and enthusiastic in their support of the project," he says, "not only in attracting the facility and clearing the way for the center, but also in developing research and educational partnerships.”