Server Farms Could be Good Use of Empty Manufacturing Facilities

Recently I wrote about how New Castle County was losing revenue due to poor land use planning on Route 202. Now let’s look at another way the county, and entire state could benefit from things like cloud computing. The answer is: server farms.

Last year I saw a Google server farm in Council Bluffs, Iowa (across the river from Omaha). At first I thought it was a large, nondescript warehouse, but there were no truck bays, even though it was near an interstate highway.

A local told me it was a server farm, how it employed people, and was good for Iowa.

In the U.S., Google has eight server farms (the firm calls them ‘data centers’), plus four in Europe, one in Chile, and two in Asia.

A Server farm is a collection of computer servers usually maintained by an organization to supply server needs far beyond the capability of one machine.

Of course, Google isn’t the only firm with server farms. As more computer applications and data move to the ‘cloud’ (instead of being stored on a hard drive), the need for more ‘farms’ will grow.

In fact, there’s a subsector of the real estate business that’s devoted to the buying and selling of these farms. It’s currently one of the bright spots in the commercial real estate market. Click here for more on Big Data’s real estate boom

How can little Delaware benefit from this?

The First State may not have thousands of empty acreage as Iowa does, but we do have that old Saturn plant rusting in Elsmere. There may be other areas downstate in a similar situation, plus the possibility of marginally-producing agricultural acreage.

Now comes the tough part: server farms are fertilized by cheap reliable energy. They must stay cool 24/7, 365 days a year.   Power from windmills and/or solar panels? They don’t make the cut and never will as they’re dependent upon unpredictable Mother Nature.

Perhaps Delaware’s location halfway between D.C. and New York City would be a selling point to a server farm investor? If the Saturn plant could be converted to a server farm, it would be a tremendous boost not only for New Castle County but the entire state – giving Delaware a ‘tech-friendly’ reputation.

There are environmental benefits too. These ‘farms’ don’t need fertilizer or water. Nor do they need to dispose of poultry poop and (ahem) other waste.

But the deal-breaker is the First State’s cost of energy. As long as Delaware continues to follow the path of other northeastern states, our energy prices will ensure server farms locate elsewhere.

The upside: Delaware is a small state with a strong identity, and can choose to take a different path than our neighbors in New Jersey and elsewhere. Having lower energy costs than our neighbors would make Delaware stand out from the crowd, and help diversify our industrial base.

Sticking with the ‘green’ agenda of windmills and solar panels might make film stars such as ultra-greenie Brad Pitt happy – while doing zero, zip, nada for increasing good jobs in Delaware. Clearly, we’re suffering from some mixed-up priorities.

Instead of focusing on what pleases a movie star, common sense says we need to fix the issues that are keeping jobs out of the First State.

Great opportunities await. Will our greenie policies let them pass us by? Delawareans deserve better.

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Google Plus
  • Share on Pinterest
  • Share on LinkedIn

About the Contributor

Joanne Butler

Joanne Butler

Joanne Butler of Wilmington is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former professional staff member of the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Leave a Comment