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'First of its kind' new computer data center powered by natural gas opens in Seattle

Cummins, McKinstry and Microsoft unveiled their new Advanced Energy Lab -- and with it, a pilot project that runs a 20-rack data center on natural gas instead of electricity in Seattle's SODO neighborhood on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (KOMO)

SEATTLE (KOMO) - A small revolution is taking place in an ordinary warehouse in Seattle’s SODO district.

It’s a revolution an ordinary person would never see unless he or she is an Amazon, Microsoft or Google employee.

Cloud computing lets us store photos, stream movies and use applications or view websites.

But all that data sits somewhere, typically in large data centers with thousands of servers in an enormous, air-conditioned building that uses an enormous amount of electricity.

On Wednesday, three companies, Cummins, McKinstry and Microsoft, unveiled their new Advanced Energy Lab -- and with it, a pilot project that runs a 20-rack data center on natural gas instead of electricity.

The idea is to put the power source as close to the computers as possible to reduce the energy loss between the two.

Data centers connected to the electrical grid receive power sometimes generated hundreds of miles away. There’s a natural loss of energy in the transmission of that power.

The Advanced Energy Lab design uses natural gas-powered fuel cells at the lab -- which should remove the energy losses that result in the transmission of electricity.

Christian Belady, general manager of Microsoft’s Development and Acquisition team, said the design should improve reliability and efficiency, and reduces operating costs of a data center.

He said most fuel cell implementations work parallel to the electrical grid or as an alternate source of grid power.

“In this particular case we are running a data center on nothing but gas -- there's no grid on the side of the road,” said Belady. “This is the first of its kind in the world."

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