This story originally appeared on KERA News.
If you’ve ever wondered where your data is stored – maybe those family vacation photos, your medical records, podcasts – they could be here: in a highly-secure, grey building north of Dallas called Digital Realty.
The inside of one of Digital Realty’s data centers looks a bit like a highly-secure hospital, or prison, except there’s hardly anyone around.
“It doesn’t look like your typical office,” Bryan Marsh says. “There’s not a lot of people here, it’s mainly for running computers.” Marsh is Vice President of Digital Realty, a global company that does what the name suggests…sells real estate for data. He used to sell office buildings to clients who cared about lush amenities like private conference rooms and gyms. Today, his clients care about access to power, space and security.
“Demand keeps growing and exploding,” Marsh says, “It’s almost tough to keep up with it at times.”Marsh won’t say who his clients are (industries include finance, health care, retail, etc.). He just smiles and says business is good.
Demand for digital storage is growing because of us.
“You and I use a data center every day when we use our phones, when we use an app to order something, when we trade, when we bank, when you play a game,” Bo Bond says. “Every time, you’re hitting a data center.”
Bond is managing director with commercial real estate firm JLL in Dallas. A study he conducted shows North Texas is the number three data center market in the country. Northern Virginia and Northern California take the top two spots, which Bond says makes sense since they’re government and tech centers respectively. So why North Texas?
“We’re very diverse in our industries,” Bond says. “We have a very low cost of power, low taxation, centrally located, great airport, easy to develop.”
Those ingredients have made Dallas Fort-Worth a popular spot for major third party data center providers like Digital Realty, CyrusOne and T5 Data Centers. In July, Facebook started construction on a $1 billion data center in Fort Worth — not far from a center owned by Blue Cross Blue Shield and another for Citigroup. In a statement to KERA News, Facebook’s Director of Data Center Operations for the West region says “Fort Worth will soon be one of the cornerstones of the global infrastructure that brings Facebook apps and services to you every day.”
Bond says states and cities are fighting to recruit data centers because of the revenue they can bring in.
“The amount of investment is much greater than any other piece of real estate, much more than an office building, a warehouse, a retail a hotel, and to a municipality, that’s tax revenue,” Bond says. “And then one of the benefits to a data center is it doesn’t tax your infrastructure. It doesn’t put another kid in the schools.”
At least 23 states, including Texas, have specially tailored incentives to attract data centers, according to the Associated Press. Since data centers don’t employ a lot of people, they don’t add much traffic or noise pollution.
The biggest concern is energy use. Keeping all those servers cool requires an enormous amount of power, and The Natural Resources Defense Council says waste and inefficiency is on the rise. To combat that trend, Bond says more companies are turning to renewable energy.
“Matter of fact,” he says, “If you read about Facebook they did a great job of buying wind power and they’re bringing that in from West Texas.”
Because who has two extra seconds to load that video of a cat riding a Roomba.