back to article Bit barn raising Arizona: Thirsty Microsoft mounts blazing saddle, plants 3 solar-powered server farms

Microsoft has confirmed its long-rumoured plan of building massive data centres in Arizona. The company lifted the lid on three giant Sun-powered server farms in the state, shockingly all listed under its own name. The software giant will use two sites in Goodyear and one in El Mirage to shovel cloud services into the western …

  1. Scott Broukell

    El Mirage would, imho, appear a very aptly named location for hosting Cloud services.

    1. J. Cook Silver badge

      It barely shows up on the maps to begin with, so it's quite aptly named. The only reason it's on the map at all is because there's about 10-15 miles of US 60 that goes through it. :)

  2. Marty McFly
    Go

    Elastic Cloud

    My snarky comment was going to be about how well the solar power works at night. Then I realized this would probably be a good location for compute resources which are primarily needed during daytime hours and are scaled back at night.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Elastic Cloud

      "The advanced design of Microsoft's data centres means that our planned data centres will use zero water for cooling for more than half the year,"

      ie they'll be switched off at night. Or they'll be switched to run off gas/coal generated electricity, but that can be hidden with some contractual greenwash.

      Mebbe St Greta can do the grand opening? Assuming she's available, and hasn't matured enough to realise that there are benefits to being flown on private jets instead of high-carbon racing yachts. Especially in typical mid-August Atlantic weather conditions. An oak/teak, canvas sailed Clipper would not be much slower, more comfortable and a much lower carbon footprint.

      1. Terry Barnes

        Re: Elastic Cloud

        Or they'll use solar plus storage? This isn't unsolvable. You just have to generate enough during the hours of sunlight to cover 24 hours of usage.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Elastic Cloud storage

          Sure, so we (should) know the limits of 'renewables'. Solar's not very handy in the dark, wind when there's no wind (or too much). Datacentres and their customers won't want their businesses in the dark or the doldrums.

          Solar forecasting's easier than wind, so you could come up with say 3n+W to estimate acreage and battery capacity requirements so you can keep operations running 24x7x365. Which is all perfectly doable, especially if you ignore cost. There are handy resources like this-

          https://www.nrel.gov/gis/assets/pdfs/solar_dni_2018_01.pdf

          To help plan. That shows AZ having an average of 7.5kWh/m^2 potential solar. Yey! So you need say, 15kW/rack & can plug that into your spreadsheets showing you need Xm^2 solar PV/rack, plus 3X to cover night time operation/day time charging.. Because there'll be losses during those cycles, and additional heat/cooling required.

          Then you have to run the numbers past your FD, who may wonder why the 'green' solution costs far more than say, $700/kW for a less risky CCGT build. Or you just externalise those costs by passing them onto your 'green' energy supplier, who'll then have to manage their own costs/risks.. Like finding cheap electricity when it's hot, calm and dark.

          Which gets even trickier to justify because if you'd built the CCGT, you'd be able to sell surplus energy to those 'green' energy suppliers and turn a cost into profits.. Especially given falling gas prices & rising electricity.. But the renewables lobby will tell you that's not fair, and you should be giving them your money instead.

          Which in the UK leads to.. odd scenarios, like 'Extinction Rebellion' trying to stop SSE building a new CCGT because 'climate emergency'. Yet SSE needs that CCGT because it invested heavily in wind, which is intermittent. Which I guess has the potential for St Greta to experience an epiphany. Plenty of time to consider modern transport vs pre-industrial and efficient use of time/resources. Also plenty of potential teachable moments. Stuck in the doldrums? No wind? Not moving? Now, imagine you're a data centre, hospital surgical wing, business.. Do you tell everyone 'Sorry, wrong kind of weather', or do you need the bucket again because the wind's picked up again.

      2. Hollerithevo Silver badge

        Re: Elastic Cloud

        Dear Mr or Ms Eel, nice segue into Greta-bashing.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Elastic Cloud

          Dear Mr or Ms Eel, nice segue into Greta-bashing.

          I'll leave child abuse & grooming to whoever's pulling her strings. Her PR people are heavily dependent on cheap energy though, eg climate simulations can't run on unicorn farts, so need a lot of electricty and cooling to run, And be re-run. And run again until the 'right' results are generated.

      3. Noah Monsey

        Re: Elastic Cloud

        The largest Nuclear power plant in North America, Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is just a few miles away from location of the new data centers.

        https://www.pvgen.info/

        Palo Verde Generating Station has been the nation’s largest power producer for more than 25 years – all of it clean and carbon-free.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palo_Verde_Nuclear_Generating_Station

        As of 2002, Palo Verde supplied electricity at 1.33 cents per kilowatt-hour.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Elastic Cloud

          Palo Verde Generating Station has been the nation’s largest power producer for more than 25 years – all of it clean and carbon-free.

          But heretical! That Chernobyl show didn't win all those awards just so people could get cheap, low carbon energy! And as data centres grow, and modular reactor designs shrink, a small reactor becomes a possibility for providing cheap, low carbon power.

          The greens really hate nuclear though because hot Uranium can result in multi-megaton explosions that nearly destroyed the whole of Europe. Those are 'scientific facts'.. Which also lead to odd bits of 'fake news' from the usual concern trolls-

          https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-49153073

          Brexit: Warning over cancer treatment supplies after no deal

          ...The UK produced only one type of radioisotope, the Royal College of Radiologists told Newsnight. All other radioactive medical materials are imported - the "vast majority" from the EU.

          I think mostly from Holland where the reactor producing them is threatened with closure. Or there's Canada and their CANDU reactors, also threatened with closure. I'm sure the BBC's crack(head) science team can come up with a solution for creating radioisotopes using only 'renewable*' power though.

          *Like, I dunno.. a breeder reactor?

  3. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Cooling?

    In the desert you say? Radiative cooling at night is normally quite effective in deserts.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Cooling?

      They'd need a surface area many square miles in size to use nighttime radiative cooling for a big datacenter.

      Also I'm not sure how representative this is of uninhabited parts of the state (which probably isn't where Microsoft is building these in any case) but Phoenix's average low is just shy of 30C in midsummer. This isn't one of those deserts that gets down near freezing at night.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: Cooling?

        You are Correct, good sir! Evenings here this year since July have rarely dipped below the 100 degree farenheit (~37 C) mark up until yesterday when the monsoon finally broke and gave the evening commuters a reason to drive 15 kph in a 60+ kph zone. The temp finally went down to ~25 C or so. Made for a miserable morning, though, once it got back up to 30 ish and the place started to dry out.

        (SERIOUSLY- a couple drops of water hit the place, and everyone and their dog thinks they are driving on ice for some reason, and traffic goes to hell in a hand basket...)

        I suspect they are going to cover the entire roof of the data center with photovoltaic panels, along with the parking lot in order to get some measure of juice. Have no idea what this will mean for moving air on the 'hot' side of the cooling system, though- I suspect they might put those on the side of the building, or build them into cooling towers or such.

  4. DougS Silver badge

    Solar power may use no water to generate electricity

    It is the cooling that does. And you need a lot of cooling for a datacenter, and not being able to use geothermal heat pumps to a convenient body of water like one might use in other regions (which uses little or no water) leaves them no choice but to use evaporative chillers which use a lot of water.

    1. John 104

      Re: Solar power may use no water to generate electricity

      You could use water, but why would you when better medium's like Glycol are available? It's what we us in ours. Closed system, no water needed. Not sure what all the fuss is about?

      And as for radiative cooling, some of the larger data centers in our area use ambient air when it is cool to keep things, er, cool. Reduces wear and tear on systems and doesn't cost anything. in AZ, it gets relatively cold at night, so I don't see this as being any different than here in the PNW.

      1. TechBearMike

        Re: Solar power may use no water to generate electricity

        It barely gets cold at night in the WINTER in the Phoenix metroplex, where these facilities are going in, much less the summer. In the high country of Arizona, yes, it can cool off at night, but again, that's not in the Valley of the Sun. We're a heat island because of all the development, concrete buildings, roads, and heavy landscaping use of small plants, bushes and decorative rock instead of shade-producing vegetation (trees [not palm trees]).

        The Valley used to be full of farms, trees, fields, etc. Now it's basically a giant slab of heat-reinforcing material. I've been here eight years, and I seldom put on more than a light windbreaker and a heavy t-shirt (still with my shorts) in the winter when it's 'cold' outside. The summer is a like living in a giant convection oven from May through late October. We're lucky in July, August, and early September if our low temperature at night falls below 90 degrees F.

    2. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: Solar power may use no water to generate electricity

      Evaporative cooling is only partly effective in the Valley of the Sun during the dry season. (We know it as swamp cooling.)

      Currently, the relative humidity is ~40%, so evaporative cooling is useless. Plus, most of the data centers around here use standard heat pump style cooling, or the usual freon-based air conditioners.

      I'm pretty certain that Microsoft located their data centers in those areas for the tax breaks rather than, say, proximity to the downtown area. (El Mirage is a tiny tiny suburb and doesn't have a lot of large businesses, same as Goodyear.)

  5. vtcodger Silver badge

    Near Phoenix

    FWIW, El Mirage is about 15 miles(25km) NW of downtown Phoenix and Goodyear is about the same distance due West of Phoenix. It is said that early Catholic missionaries reported back to the Vatican that in Winter the natives in the region saw no particular attraction to Heaven and in Summer (which lasts about 8 months), they saw nothing about Hell that sounded worse than where they were. It's about the last place I'd put an installation that required a lot of cooling, but maybe Microsoft got a really good deal on land, taxes, and power.

    1. TechBearMike

      Re: Near Phoenix

      I don't remember the exact source from several years back, but a local business paper had a very brief item about Bill Gates personally investing in a huge residential development "near the White Tanks," a mountain range on the far west side of the Phoenix metroplex. Since then it's been hush-hush, since that's another slice of semi-wilderness that will be ruined by development and contribute mightily to Phoenix's sprawl problem. Now I wonder if these two projects are hand in hand. The residential area would be about halfway between the two data center sites. Ain't speculation grand?

  6. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    It is all good and well - but what if history tend to repeat itself?

    I'm talking about the rise of IBM and big iron, but when client-server computing became the rage, IBM took a hard fall.

    Similarly, what if cloud computing falls out of fashion simply because something better came along, and all those mongo datasilo's chock-full of servers, RAM, hard drives and other equipment, is not needed anymore? Just a thought I'm pondering on, Pinky. Tomorrow we do the world.

    1. Old-dog

      Quantum Iron

      Yes, sure.

      All that Big Iron will be replaced... by quantum computers ... which are being developed mainly by Big Blue

    2. Old-dog

      From the darkest!

      Big Blue is Back!

      Recharged!

  7. DontFeedTheTrolls Silver badge
    Coat

    Powered by Solar

    Is this what they mean in IT when they talk about "follow the Sun"?

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