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Microsoft opens new data center hub based in West Valley

Microsoft Corp. has opened a new sustainable data center region, its first in Arizona, the tech giant announced on Tuesday.

The region called “West US 3” is a cloud-based data center with a presence in Goodyear and El Mirage.

Microsoft would not elaborate on the number of buildings or centers that are live now, or whether it will build more due to proprietary concerns, company officials said.But minutes from the Goodyear City Council meeting on May 24 shows Microsoft has a development agreement with the city and plans to build a second building on 145 acres it owns at the southeast corner of Citrus and West Indian School roads.

The Washington-based tech company (NASDAQ: MSFT) said it builds data data centers across the globe to address increased customer demand for Microsoft Cloud services. Beginning on Tuesday, Microsoft said customers can build and run their Microsoft Azure applications from West US 3. Azure is a cloud computing service from Microsoft that offers computing, networking, databases, analytics, AI and IoT services

Microsoft bought a total of 576.5 acres across three sites in the West Valley in 2019 to develop into at least three data centers, which were expected to be functional this year.

Because of the available land, future expansion is possible, according to Microsoft.

“We want to be responsive to that, either grow where we have an existing footprint, or look at other regions,” said Chelsea Pohl, senior manager of Microsoft data center communications.

Plans submitted to the city of Goodyear in 2019 for the first site, which totals 279 acres, at Maricopa County 85 and Lower Buckeye Road called for a first phase consisting of two data center buildings totaling 486,000 square feet, which is approximately 11 acres. Microsoft also bought an additional 145 acres in Goodyear at the southeast corner of Citrus and West Indian School roads, as well as 150.5 acres at Dysart Road and Olive Avenue in El Mirage.

El Mirage Mayor Alexis Hermosillo said in 2019 that the first phase of Microsoft’s El Mirage site will total 254,000 square feet, or 5.8 acres.

Future buildout can only lead to more construction and revenue for the local economy. The full extent of that is still unknown at this time.

“So, normally, in an Azure region, You’d have at least three data centers,” Sergio Loureiro, vice president of core operations for Microsoft’s cloud operations and innovation group, said in an interview. “We have a global cloud infrastructure. More than 200 data centers globally in about 34 countries. We build a data center, to address the increasing customer demand and our Azure availability zones for additional resilience for their application.”

Workforce impact

In 2019, Brian Janous, general manager of energy at Microsoft, said the process to choose sites for the new data centers took years, and the company chose Goodyear and El Mirage for the availability of labor and energy supplies, as well as the cost of land.

About 110 jobs were expected to be created across the three new facilities, which Janous said is a normal workforce size for facilities on that scale.

Microsoft has partnered with local community colleges to launch a Microsoft Datacenter Academy, the ninth of its kind in the world.

Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) and Glendale Community College (GCC) will host the academy and provide Microsoft certification and training for high demand IT jobs.

While the aggregate number of permanent jobs brought to the Valley may be finite, the impact the academy will have in creating highly skilled and in-demand workers will be significant.

“This partnership with Microsoft will not only help to fill a void in the IT job market but will also provide our students with additional streamlined pathways to these high-paying jobs, many of which will be located right here in the West Valley,” Rey Rivera, president of EMCC, said in a statement.

Microsoft is also providing the academy with Microsoft data center equipment so students can learn hands-on, a contrast to some traditional certification routes. The hands-on experience and official Microsoft Datacenter Academy name will bring clout to many cloud students.

Economic, environmental impact

With the buildup, Microsoft created over 1,000 construction jobs in the Valley in the initial phase, Loureiro said.

Phases are still ongoing in the Valley, but in terms of economic impact the temporary and permanent support jobs is what Microsoft brings.

“This project has created a boost in our local economy through hundreds of construction jobs as well as new high-paying positions to support data center operations,” Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord said in a statement.

With that economic boost, the cities of Goodyear and El Mirage should see minimal environmental impact.

“At Microsoft, we have a really strong global commitment to be carbon negative by 2030, and to be 100% renewable by 2025,” Loureiro said. “Which are pretty lofty targets, right? We believe that is the absolute right thing for us to do.

“Microsoft partnered with Longroad Energy and plans to use solar energy from their Maricopa County solar plants to offset their energy demands, Loureiro added.

The unique mixture of year-round sunlight, tolerable temperature and humidity for half the year makes the Valley a unique location. Six months out of the year the centers won’t use water.

“We use a method that’s called adiabatic cooling which uses outside air instead of water for cooling when temperatures are below 85 degrees Fahrenheit,” Loureiro said. “When temperatures are above 85 degrees, an evaporative cooling system is used, which operate like ‘swamp coolers’ in residential homes.”

The system is purported to use less electricity and also just a fraction of the water when compared to other systems. Additionally, the water used won’t be shoved off into a waste stream, which may have been a concern to some stakeholders in the region.

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