Forget about Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.’s splashy high-rises, stadiums, tunnels and floating bridges for just a few moments. One of the biggest Pacific Northwest building booms takes place in the desert of central Oregon as companies clamor to construct data centers, housing acres of computer servers.

What started in Prineville, Ore., in April 2011 with Facebook’s foray into green building has only expanded, welcoming Google, Amazon and potentially Apple. Facebook kicked off the building boom in the town of less than 10,000 people nearby Bend, Ore., when it opened a 333,000-square-foot center to house its servers.

Facebook’s success led to other mega-companies jumping on the opportunity to build in an area with favorable taxing rules, low-cost electricity and a mild climate that substantially reduces costs to keep cool the always-working servers.

Facebook has recently started in on an expansion project in Prineville and rumors have Apple planning its own center next door, joining Google, Amazon and others. But these centers offer more than just massive warehouses, serving as construction models for Facebook data centers in North Carolina and Sweden.

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The designs of the centers look to maximize energy efficiency and minimize cost. As explained in the Open Compute Project, which Facebook actually started, the centers even operate without traditional air conditioning, instead using a cooling system that pulls in outside air into the system. The system also utilizes evaporative cooling. A new design of server can now run in hotter environments too, easing the cooling needs on both ends.

This magazine even named Facebook’s center as one of its best green buildings of 2011.

Along with the staggering cooling reductions, reportedly between 40 and 50 percent less than a comparable data center using air conditioning, rainwater harvesting cuts the need for irrigation and treated water and solar panels further reduce outside energy sourcing.

The LEED Gold data center uses higher voltage coming into the facility (277v compared to 208v) to increase efficiency by removing transformer conversions. The company claims it loses just 7 percent of power through conversion instead of the typical 25 percent.

While local governments still weight the impact of the centers (and The Oregonian did an in-depth look into the impact of the centers), with the substantial tax breaks and relatively low employment they generate (Facebook says it has 54 full-time employees at its first facility and will add 10 more when the second facility gets completed), the 1,400 workers that helped construct the first Facebook data center certainly helps the construction industry. And it provides an intriguing new construction boom to keep an eye on in the Pacific Northwest.

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