Ross Perot Jr. on Facebook’s New $1 Billion Data Center at Alliance

Hillwood hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking for a new $1 billion Facebook data center on Tuesday.
Hillwood hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking for a new $1 billion Facebook data center on Tuesday.

As the son of EDS founder Ross Perot, Ross Perot Jr. grew up in a “data center world,” he says. “Not many people, when they’re 10 years old, were running around data centers like I did. When you think of the old data centers I was in as a boy, with the tapes and print cards, to the new data centers of today—it’s really amazing to see the evolution.”

Perot made the comments at a groundbreaking celebration Tuesday for a new $1 billion data center for Facebook, being developed off Park Vista Boulevard north of State Highway 170 in Fort Worth. The 110-acre site lies within AllianceTexas, a 18,000-acre masterplanned development owned by Hillwood, a Perot company.

“I’m looking forward to bringing Dad to this new data center, to let him see what the 21st century looks like,” Perot said. “Because that’s what Facebook will deliver.”

Initial plans call for three 250,000-square-foot facilities, with the first phase slated to open next summer. The project could get even larger—and is expected to surpass $1 billion in investment.

Perot said Facebook selected Fort Worth for a number of reasons, starting with power. When he first met with a Facebook representative, the executive wouldn’t reveal the company’s name—or even his own name, according to Perot: “He said, ‘Look. I’m working on a $1 billion deal.’ That got our attention.”

Rendering of Facebook's new data center complex in Fort Worth.
Rendering of Facebook’s new data center complex in Fort Worth.

The data center complex is being built by DPR Fortis Mission Critical, a joint venture between DPR Construction and Fortis Construction. The high-tech builders also worked on Facebook’s data centers in Oregon, North Carolina, and Sweden.

Winning a project from one of the world’s most influential brands bodes well for the region’s future, Perot said. “Facebook is one of the great high-tech companies of the 21st century,” he said. “The fact that we were able to go through the Facebook process, which is very rigorous and very professional, and come out on top, shows the world that this is where you want big data centers to be. Data centers are the new steel factories … they’re the engine rooms of high-tech companies.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said North Texas has grown to become the third-largest data center market in the United States. The Facebook project is another key win for Alliance, she said, which has generated $55 billion in economic impact since 1990 and is now home to more than 400 companies. The future growth opportunities related to data centers and data warehouses are “staggering,” Price said. “We’re delighted that Facebook ‘likes’ Tarrant County and Fort Worth,” she quipped.

Tom Furlong, vice president of infrastructure for Facebook, said the data center will be powered entirely by renewable wind energy. The company has tapped Citigroup Energy to lead the initiative, in collaboration with Alterra Power Corp. and Starwood Energy Group. The program will bring 200 megawatts of wind energy to North Texas—far more than Facebook anticipates using, certainly in the early stages, Furlong said.

He also spoke about the “unprecedented scale” of Facebook, whose 1.5 billion users share 2 billion photos a day and view 4.5 billion videos. More than 45 billion Facebook messages are sent on a daily basis via various Facebook apps. It all creates a “huge tech challenge,” Furlong said, adding that the company also is planning for the future; it aims to eventually connect 5 billion people.

According to Furlong, a number of factors played into the site-selection decision; the fact that Texas sits on its own energy grid was among them, as was access to wind power, fiber and a high-tech workforce. “We found all of those things here,” he said. “We cast a big net and worked our way down to finalist locations.”

As you would expect, the company put up a post to announce the project. It also has created a Facebook page for the new Fort Worth data center.

Gov. Greg Abbott at the Facebook ground-breaking ceremony.
Gov. Greg Abbott at the Facebook ground-breaking ceremony.

Winning the Facebook data center “shows how the Texas model works in attracting jobs and billion-dollar projects,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, who was on hand for the groundbreaking. Abbott talked about Texas’ ranking as the country’s leading exporter, even trumping California in exporting technology, he said. Although it’s known as an oil and gas hotbed, Texas also leads the nation in wind energy (by a factor of two when compared to the next-leading state, according to Citigroup Energy). “Renewable energy resources was one of the pivotal reasons Facebook chose this location for this project,” Abbott said.

Facebook will join other “high-profile” data center tenants at Alliance, said Hillwood President Mike Berry. Those type of users are typically under-the-radar, as they don’t like to call attention to their sites. The latest win reinforces the infrastructure planning Hillwood did 20 years ago, said Berry, who also talked about the “huge” investments data center projects bring to the region. “Job numbers at data centers are not that big, but it’s almost the best kind of project a community can have, because you don’t have the pressure on school districts or police or fire, but you get a mega-taxpayer with a lot of utility services,” he said.

Berry has worked with Perot on Alliance since the project first got underway about 27 years ago. Sprawling across both Denton and Tarrant counties, it spans the cities of Fort Worth, Westlake, Roanoke, and Haslet.

“The good news is, we have Facebook in Texas,” Perot said. “The better news is a lot more business is coming. We’ve never been as busy at AlliainceTexas. Every real estate product is expanding. We have 400 companies, and the project is only half-developed. We’re just warming up.”