where to build

Deciding where to build your data center is a big deal. When choosing between a rural location and an urban one, you’ll find pros and cons on both sides. We explore them all here.

Should You Build in the City or Country? Here’s How to Decide Where to Build

Data centers are expensive to build, operate and maintain. Naturally, cost factors will play a vital role in whether you choose a city center or a country location.

Both urban and rural areas have seen the establishment of large data centers. The 1 million square-foot Utah Data Center is located in the rural area of Bluffdale, Utah. On the other hand, the 1.1 million square-foot Lakeside Technology Center is located in a prime location in the city of Chicago.

Urban and rural locations have their own strengths and weaknesses. Data center managers need to consider location-related factors like power, natural risks, infrastructure cost, and employee retention.

Consideration Factors

When choosing where to build, the following factors can provide guidance:

Electric Power 

Data centers are massive consumers of electricity. In 2014, US data centers consumed about 70 billion kilowatts of power. So data center managers should look into factors like power grid reliability, availability, and cost. City centers might have more reliable and available power, but the cost might be higher.

In order to attract large businesses, rural areas are often willing to negotiate on power or give tax breaks. If the rural areas have the necessary power grid maturity and redundancy, the cost savings can be enormous. Managers should weigh the cost vs. reliability issues. This can help you select a location with a better return on investment.

Proximity Factors

Distance plays an important role in the performance of data centers. For a latency-sensitive application, large distance from a major customer hub can diminish performance. Also, data backups can take longer and increase the operational cost.

Rural areas have fewer transportation options. During a disaster, it might be harder to gain access to the facility. City centers provide better options for air and ground travel.

Weather and Natural Risk Factors

Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes are unpredictable. Data centers need to be prepared. Whether choosing an urban or rural location, managers should assess the probability and the risk factors before choosing where to build.

It’s prudent to avoid high-risk areas. Even with a moderate risk factor, you should carefully weigh the available emergency resources. An urban area might be better equipped to deal with a disaster. But it will have to prioritize the well-being of the large population. Rural areas might lack redundancy in power, communication and transportation. You’ll need to analyze different disaster scenarios to understand your risks.

Infrastructure Cost Factors

Rural areas can provide significant cost-savings in construction. But it might require higher investment in telecommunication. To extend the benefits to citizens, local governments might co-invest to help you update communication networks. You can take advantage of such opportunities to save money.

In urban locations, you can use third-parties to bring down your infrastructure and communication costs.

Employee Retention Factors

IT employees are well-paid individuals who place a premium on the quality of life. It will be harder to attract top talent to areas with unattractive living conditions.

Managers should consider housing, education, health, recreation and social conditions of the surrounding area. Urban and rural locations will attract different demographics of the IT crowd. If employee retention becomes a problem, it can be disastrous for a data center.

Data centers are massive investments that can take years to build. The wrong location can ruin the prospects of your facility. Invest in location modeling and quantitative analysis before making any decisions on where to build. Take all of this into consideration and you’ll have the perfect springboard for making your critical decisions.