Facebook's Iowa Data Center Goes Online

Nov 14, 2014

Lighting a giant “Like” button to mark the opening of Facebook’s Altoona data center. From left, Facebook site manager Brice Towns, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, head of the Iowa Economic Development Authority Debi Durham, Altoona Mayor Skip Conkling, and Facebook vice president of infrastructure Thomas Furlong.
Credit John Pemble

When Facebook users "like" a photo or update their relationship status, some of that information will be stored in Iowa.

The social networking site's newest data center had its grand opening today. The first of the Altoona campus's three buildings is up and running.

Facebook says its Altoona facility will staff about 75 employees who will keep the server storage facility operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Vice president of infrastructure Thomas Furlong says servers in the second building will begin storing data by the end of next year.

"It's under construction right now," says Furlong. "We've got a lot of things to do to get it ready to the point where it's ready to receive servers and then we'll turn it on."

Furlong says a multitude of reasons lead Facebook to select Altoona as the site of its newest data center, though Iowa's wind energy resources was a major draw. The facility takes all its electricity from a wind farm located in Wellsburg.

"We found a place where we could get 100 percent renewable energy," says Furlong. "Our work with MidAmerican has brought on 140 megawatt new wind project onto the grid, that's about 40,000 homes worth of electricity." 

Another draw to Iowa are the incentives provided through the state's tax increment financing, or TIF. The incentives are too generous according to some, including Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson.

“Other states usually are much more circumspect both in the amounts, the duration, the scope and the type of business assistance that they offer," Swenson told Iowa Public Radio back in June. "Iowa is much less so.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who was at the grand opening, sees Facebook as a boon for Iowa.

"As we maintain our strong focus on attracting high-quality jobs for Iowans, having Facebook locate in our state has been a huge win," says Reynolds. "A capital investment of this kind totaling hundreds of millions of dollars has a great economic benefit." 

In addition to Facebook, two other tech giants have selected Iowa sites for their data centers. Google has a facility in Council Bluffs, and Microsoft is building in West Des Moines. 

Facebook has three other data centers located in Oregon, North Carolina and Sweden. 

Servers at Facebook's new Altoona data center.
Credit John Pemble