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Applied Blockchain breaks ground on $100 million high-performance computing center in Ellendale

The rural North Dakota town, located over two hours southwest of Fargo, will soon be home to high-performance computing and data processing. CEO Wes Cummins said the investment in Ellendale follows

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Applied Blockchain will build a 180 megawatt data center at a cost nearly $100 million at this site in Ellendale, N.D.
Contributed / Applied Blockchain
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ELLENDALE, N.D. — Applied Blockchain broke ground on a nearly $100 million, 180 megawatt high-performance computing center Thursday, Sept. 8 in Ellendale.

The groundbreaking in Ellendale closely follows the opening of a similar facility in Jamestown, which went online earlier in 2022. The new facility is expected to open in the first half of 2023, a press release stated.

The Ellendale site will be larger than its counterpart in Jamestown, Applied Blockchain CEO Wes Cummins told The Forum Friday, Sept. 23. While the Jamestown location consists of eight buildings drawing 100 megawatts, the Ellendale site will have 14 buildings and draw 180 megawatts. That’s comparable to powering 180 skyscrapers, Cummins explained.

More than crypto

Similar to the Jamestown center, Cummins said the Ellendale location will provide servers for the Bitcoin network. Cryptocurrency is only the beginning of the center’s possibilities, however. “Right now, we’re building out for Bitcoin and blockchain, but there’s a lot of things like machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, all these applications that I think are really going to be the next step of computing,” Cummins said.

In addition to those possibilities, Cummins also listed genetic sequencing, protein sequencing and drug discovery as future avenues for the company's data centers. The CEO said he is “confident” that Applied Blockchain’s Jamestown location will move beyond cryptocurrency by the end of this year.

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Addressing a ‘power glut’

Expanding beyond Jamestown is a natural progression for Applied Blockchain, Cummins said. The Dallas-based company is also working on a 200 megawatt facility in Garden City, Texas.

The Ellendale location was appealing because it is located near Dickey County’s power grid, which Cummins said is congested with excess energy production. That’s a common scenario near wind turbines in both North Dakota and Texas, he added.

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Applied Blockchain broke ground on a 180 megawatt data center Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022 in Ellendale, N.D.
Contributed / Applied Blockchain

Ellendale Mayor Don Flaherty explained that the county has a “power glut” as a result of excess wind energy. Applied Blockchain will use that power before it enters the grid, which Flaherty anticipates will be a positive for the local and national power grid.

Overall, Cummins felt the move into the Peace Garden State has been a positive for Applied Blockchain, hence the increased investment here. “We wanted more in North Dakota because it’s been a great experience for us,” he remarked.

‘Built to last a long time’

As evidenced by the facility’s price tag, Cummins promised that Applied Blockchain plans to call Ellendale home for decades. “We’ll end up spending close to $100 million just on the building in Ellendale. These things are built to last a long time,” he said. “The vision here is that this is a permanent structure and we’re entering a really high-growing market for high-performance computing.”

Knowing that Applied Blockchain plans to make a long-term commitment to Ellendale has helped assuage concerned Dickey County residents, Flaherty said.

Some feared that Applied Blockchain would be subject to the vagaries of the cryptocurrency market and would pull up stakes if things went south. That isn’t the case, Flaherty said. “They’re going to be able to do business because of the wide range of services that would want to use their data capacity. To me, that’s a good thing for Ellendale and a good thing for a small town,” he commented. “It’s also something that’s going to be here 10, 15, 20 years from now. It’s not something that’s a flash in the pan type of a deal.”

Because blockchain offers applications beyond cryptocurrency, Flaherty said Ellendale isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket. “From my standpoint, personally, I see that as a positive because it’s not like we’re all tied up in just one little thing,” he said.

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Cummins expected that Applied Blockchain would employ 30 people in Ellendale, a similar figure to their staffing in Jamestown. Positions include roles such as data center managers, systems managers and operators. “It’s fairly well-paying jobs and they’re true tech jobs in an area that I don’t think really had those types of jobs before,” Cummins said.

North Dakota has been fertile ground for finding employees, which Cummins said has been “pleasantly surprising.” They have even been over-staffing their Jamestown facility in an effort to train people for jobs in Ellendale or Garden City. “I think the jobs we offer are maybe a little more appealing than other options that might pay a similar amount,” he remarked. “We’ve found it to be a really great place to find staff for our data centers.”

Once the Ellendale and Garden City facilities begin operations, Applied Blockchain will be approaching 500 megawatts. The progression won’t stop there, with Cummins anticipating that figure to double a few years down the road. “The growth is really rapid and I don’t think that’s slowing down anytime soon,” he said.

Meanwhile, Flaherty felt the arrival of Applied Blockchain will be a positive change for his town. “Is it going to change things?” he asked rhetorically. “Yeah. But it’s not going to change things, I don’t think, in a negative way, per se.”

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Thomas Evanella is a reporter for The Forum. He's worked for The Forum for over three years, primarily reporting on business news. He's also the host of the InForum Business Beat podcast, which can be streamed at InForum.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Reach him at tevanella@forumcomm.com or by calling 701-241-5518. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella.
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