Energy-hungry data centers are quietly moving into cities

The Western Union Building, 60 Hudson Street, c. 1931. - Library of Congress

Energy-hungry data centers are quietly moving into cities
MIT Technology Review, June 22, 2022
by Michael Waters

“Companies are pushing more server farms into the hearts of population centers.”


In 1930, the telegraph giant Western Union put the finishing touches on its new crown jewel: a 24-story art deco building located at 60 Hudson Street in lower Manhattan. Soon after, over a million telegraphs each day shuttled in and out, carried by a network of cables, pneumatic tubes, and 30 employees in roller skates who sped across the building’s linoleum floors.


Today, much of it is home to vast halls of computer servers. It is a physical manifestation of the cloud: when you stream a TV show, upload a file to Dropbox, or visit a website, chances are you will be relying on the processing power of a data center just like it. Hundreds of companies rent out space in 60 Hudson Street, and it is one of a growing number of buildings, sometimes called “colocation centers” in industry parlance, that host data centers in or near major population centers.


When you think of data centers, you probably picture a giant server farm in a rural area where electricity is cheap and tax breaks are plentiful. Big tech companies like Google, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Meta have placed millions of square feet worth of server space in places like Northern Virginia or Hillsboro, Oregon. But now, to reduce lag times, companies are increasingly weaving nodes in their network into the fabric of cities. The One Wilshire building in Los Angeles, for example, formerly home to a network of law offices, now oversees one-third of all internet traffic between the US and Asia.

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About the Author:

Michael Waters is a writer and journalist who has published with The Atlantic, Digiday, WIRED, Vox, and The New York Times.