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EBay's Utah data center is company's largest capital investment

EBay says that the $334 million data center the company is building in Utah will be the largest capital investment it's ever made.

The Utah data center that eBay Inc. plans to open this spring is the single largest investment in capital the online auction giant has ever made, according to its senior global data center director.

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The facility, with an estimated cost $334 million, will employ energy efficient design, and seek the U.S. Green Building Council's Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, said Dean Nelson, the senior director of global data center strategy, architecture and operations.

"The foundation of our revenue is our data centers," he said. "We live and die by our data centers."

We live and die by our data centers.
Dean Nelson,
senior director of global data center strategyEBay Inc.

Data centers are so crucial to eBay's business that the company has determined exactly how much it loses whenever there's an outage. The verdict? Depending on what goes down, the impact on the site is $2,000 to $4,000 per second. In a November triplepundit interview, eBay's vice president of technology operations, Mazen Rawashdeh, also said that the electricity used to manage data at eBay comprised more than 60% of the company's total carbon footprint.

Better data center design involves up-front planning
With so much riding on data centers, facility design and planning are key. In January, Nelson talked about some of the benefits of hot-aisle/cold-aisle containment, which eBay uses in its data centers and which Nelson promotes through Data Center Pulse, the data center end user group of which he is a co-founder.

EBay also has a relatively short two-year tech refresh cycle, to bring in the highest-performing, most energy efficient servers as soon as possible. Server refreshes are considered one of the easiest ways to boost data center energy efficiency. EBay offloads its used servers to other institutions such as the University of Notre Dame. The university built a containerized data center in South Bend so that the exhaust heat from the servers can warm an adjacent city greenhouse.

The goal of designing a data center is to have it last 10 years; a shorter lifespan is not worth the investment. That can be a tough task considering the constantly increasing data center densities. Nelson said that building generic facilities creates flexibility when future IT and data center conditions change.

"You need to be able to put anything anywhere regardless of what the business throws at you," Nelson said yesterday while speaking during a webinar hosted by Mission Critical magazine. "You don't know how it will change, who they acquire or who they'll be acquired by."

That goes for more than internal data center design. Nelson said that early in the design phase it's important to talk to local businesses and other stakeholders. A data center must ensure that there is enough power to run its current facility, but also enough capacity to accommodate future loads. Many utility providers also offer financial incentives for data center efficiency.

Contacting the state's economic development agency can be beneficial in winning tax incentives. The Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development offered eBay $27.3 million in tax incentives over 10 years for building the facility in the state.

The agency might also give guidance as to future utility rates. The rate might be a bargain now but could change drastically and quickly depending on factors such as future capacity. Nelson also advised investigating the utility's power source mixture.

"It has to balance economic and ecological factors," he said, adding that "cap and trade will impact the cost of that power, and impact the states with a higher mixture of coal quicker than those who don't."

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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