LEADS CEO: Microsoft to complete Cheyenne data center expansion

Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Austin Huguelet – CHEYENNE – After an 18-month delay, Microsoft has begun work to complete a promised expansion of its data center operations west of town.

The Redmond, Washington-based technology giant originally announced the expansion at a 2015 news conference with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, where officials said the company planned to spend more than $200 million and double the 25 permanent jobs at the center within one to two years.

But Cheyenne LEADS CEO Randy Bruns said the company delayed physical expansion after upgrades made existing servers more efficient, pushing back the need for more. That development led the company to review its data center strategy and put all projects on hold, Bruns said.

But now, expansion work is back on. Black Hills Energy began preparing for a new center in mid-summer, Bruns said, and Microsoft started with preparatory and foundation work in the fall.

“Now they’re well under construction,” he said. “And it will increase as the weather improves.”

Cheyenne LEADS, which manages the North Range Business Park where Microsoft’s data center sits, is also working on water and sewer infrastructure for the site, Bruns said.

Bruns also had good news on the hiring and investment front.

In 2015, the expansion was expected to bring the company’s total investment in the data center to $750 million and employment to 50 full-time jobs. But Bruns said Microsoft was “already well beyond what they promised,” adding that he anticipated more jobs would accompany the growth.

The function of Microsoft’s data centers here and around the world is to host data for the company’s cloud services like search engine Bing, video chat application Skype and online gaming platform Xbox Live.

But the one here has also played a key role in Microsoft’s drive to use more clean energy in data operations.

In 2016, the company inked a deal that made the Cheyenne facility fully wind-powered. And instead of using diesel fuel to power its backup generators, as is common practice in most data centers, the company uses cheaper and more efficient natural gas here.

Rob Godby, an associate professor of economics at the University of Wyoming, said Microsoft’s investments have also been a major victory for the state’s economy as leaders work to diversify it beyond the dominant commodities industry.

It can be difficult for Wyoming to attract high-tech opportunities that require a large, skilled workforce over more populous areas down the Front Range and in the Salt Lake Valley, he said.

But Wyoming provides a perfect environment for data centers: Its cold winters reduce the cost of cooling servers, and the remoteness and low population density helps with security.

The state’s cheap energy also helps with power-hungry servers.

And that compatibility gives Wyoming a foothold in the booming information economy that’s only going to keep growing, Godby said.

Originally published in the Wyoming Tribune eagle on March 2, 2018 – By Austin Huguelet