Demand for Data Centers Is Soaring

Industry analysts say there is growing need to build data centers throughout the rest of the country, part of an effort to bring them closer to customers and take advantage of increasing availability of high-speed networks in rural areas and smaller cities.

The United States had 2,701 data centers in 2022, the largest number in the world, followed by Germany, a distant second, and Britain and China, according to data compiled by Statista. In addition to its two coastal hubs, U.S. data centers are concentrated near major cities, from Atlanta to Seattle.

Large digital companies and the federal government often own and operate their own data centers‌. Other businesses and governments frequently lease space.

“Anyone who can move into somebody else’s data center will do that,” said Jim Coakley, who develops, owns and manages high-security, high-density data centers. He built his first in Northern Virginia nearly 20 years ago.

Loudoun County, Va., is a key location for data centers, but nearby Prince William County is also experiencing a boom. Elected officials there recently approved a major zoning change for 2,100 acres, paving the way for about 25 million square feet of new data centers.

The zoning decision is not without controversy. Known as the Digital Gateway, the land is close to Manassas National Battlefield Park, whose superintendent has expressed concerns about “potential irreparable harm” to the site. Ann Wheeler, chairman of the board of supervisors in Prince William and a strong backer of the zoning change, lost her re-election bid in the Democratic primary last week after a grass-roots campaign to oust her emphasized her support for more data centers.

Data centers will increasingly be built farther from some of the traditional locations and will move closer to the clients they serve, according to research by Gartner, an I.T. consultancy. But the search for land is not always easy.