You may not equate rural America with data centers, but some communities are seeing a small influx of them, thanks to cryptomining.
The technology is computationally intensive and growing, said Dave Perrill, CEO of Compute North, which operates three Tier 0 data centers with plans for more.
“The actual mining takes place under cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum,” which are used in tandem with blockchains, he explained.
Data centers are classified into one of four tiers, with Tier 1 being the most economical and basic, he said.
Yet, “we think Tier 1 is also very expensive, and for some apps, very overbuilt,” Perrill maintained. “We think there’s room for what we categorize as Tier 0, which is even more economical and basic” and drives out unnecessary costs.
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A Tier 0 data center provides the basic needs for blockchain, cryptocurrency miners or any other non-mission-critical, computationally intensive distributed app, that can handle some downtime or outages, he said.
The simple reason for targeting rural America for new data centers? Economics, he said.
“What we’ve learned through that process is … there’s a lot of fat on the bone in [terms of] what’s going on in traditional data centers, and they’re ripe for disruption because they’re so expensive for everything,” including energy, Perrill said.
Compute North data centers will bill at 3% of the cost of traditional data centers as measured by megawatt use, he said. “You could build 33 of our Tier 0 data centers for one traditional data center,” he said.
Bringing in jobs
Besides cryptomining, Perrill believes machine learning, video rendering, and big data analysis are among the other types of applications that will work well in a Tier 0 data center.
So far, Compute North has built out three data centers in Big Spring, TX; North Sioux City, SD; and Kearney, Neb. The company has brought in some temporary construction jobs as well as full-time employees to run the sites.
The data centers in Texas and South Dakota utilized 12 full-time contractors and electricians for six months during the building phase and now has two full-time employees to run the site, Perrill says.
The data center in Nebraska is larger and employs roughly 40-45 people since the buildout is still underway, and will employ about 20 when it is finished, he said.
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Those sites were chosen for three reasons: Compute North was able to get energy at a low cost and at scale; the local governments “were very receptive to what we were doing;” and the company wanted to utilize existing physical infrastructure, including access to energy, “that we can repurpose for our needs without any capex investment on our parts or the city’s,” Perrill said.
Another Compute North site will open before the end of the year in the upper Midwest, Perrill said, declining to name the exact location. Three other sites are under development in various stages in the US and Canada, he said.
Use of blockchain and other high-performance computing applications are only going to grow, Perrill said, so the demand for data centers designed with compute power in mind will as well.
Compute North’s goal over the next three years is to develop another five or six data centers, and Perrill said he anticipates this will bring 150-200 new jobs into the US and Canada, all in rural locations.