Posted at 11:30 AM on November 15, 2012
by Paul Tosto
St Paul's Ford assembly plant closed eleven months ago. The lingering question remains what should be done with the site. My favorite idea remains transforming the plant into a Google server farm.
Ed Kohler, a local web strategy guy, argued in a 2007 open letter to Google, that the tunnels beneath the Ford plant -- dug to mine silica to make glass for Ford vehicle windows in the early days of the plant -- would be a perfect "secure, climate controlled environment" for a data center.
His letter cycled back into my head today after I read the newest pitch by state officials to locate data centers in Minnesota. The Department of Employment and Economic Development says that "Minnesota's cool climate, low energy costs, and great tax incentives make our state an ideal location for data centers."
OK, let's put the pieces together.
1.) DEED is chatting up Minnesota's geography, talent and, apparently, awesome business tax structure ("Minnesota's business taxes rank among the 10 lowest in the nation"!) to lure data centers.
2.) Google recently began showing off its data centers around the country, boasting about their efficiency and use of renewable energy.
3.) St. Paul has a giant industrial site -- with its own source of renewable energy -- and a network of already constructed underground tunnels!
The group Action Squad has photos of the Ford tunnels posted on its website. Here's one:
A shot taken from the dual freight elevator area, back toward the twin entry shafts. - 6/9/1937
Yes, the tunnels might not be in pristine condition. But it's probably cheaper to fix tunnels than build new ones, right? Plus, there's a dam!
Don't make us beg more than we have to.
-- Paul Tosto
We passed a specific tax incentive for data centers in 2011. It hasn't been utilized much because we found that the parameters around it needed to better align with the types of centers companies were looking to build. We were aiming for big ones and companies are looking to do more mid-sized ones, if I remember correctly. Maybe it was the opposite. We were looking at possibilities for adjusting the incentive next session. With the change in control after the election you'd have to talk to someone else to gauge its prospects.
Pro:hydro electric dam to power the data center.
Con:likely not the best connectivity.
Pro: Dedicated rail lines running to the plant would provide right of way to run fiber at least to down town St. Paul.
Con:Tunnels have been known to flood, and aren't usually a preffered location for a data center.
Con: tornado have been known to hit the twincities, and natural disaster prone areas are not data center friendly (Pro: we aren't california with hurricanes floods, mudslides, and earthquakes)
Pro: MN does have a fairly good internet back bone.
Pro: low temperatures can make for very cheap data center cooling in the winter.
The report is valid data for large Corps like Google, but not for small S Corp entrepreneurs who usually file their business profits as personal income. The overall tax burden puts Minnesota at #7 in the country…and that is before Taxapalooza 2013.
Also, Saint Paul is a notoriously unfriendly place for businesses.
All that being said, Google likes to present themselves as “happy to pay” progressive types, so it probably can’t hurt to ask!
Currently, MN bandwidth is very expensive relative to cities that already have huge fiber runs into them (Chicago, NY, Atlanta, Dallas) and are geographically more central than MN. We're sort of this spur trail going north, then it dead-ends, so in order to move internet traffic anywhere of note, it's all routed through Chicago or Dallas or Atlanta anyway. If that's the case, why not just locate your servers there and skip that extra hop?
Also, seeing how the datacenters fared in Manhattan, almost all of them had their generators in the basements of their buildings. As such, those generators were flooded and couldn't be used during Sandy, causing whole datacenter's to go down for days (unheard of). Having old tunnel's right next to a river might not be the best plan of action for server placement... just sayin'
I doubt those Ford tunnels are low enough in the bluffs that the river could flood them, but don't know for sure. Anyone out there able to provide hard facts?