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Facebook's 'green' data center design to have ripple effect

Social network giant's Prineville, Ore., facility offers blueprint for more energy-efficient IT operations

By , Network World
April 28, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Network World - Facebook's innovative new data center design -- believed to be one of the world's most energy-efficient facilities of its kind -- will have a significant influence on corporate data center build-outs over the next several years, experts say.

Facebook's new Prineville, Ore., data center features an outside air-cooled building, energy-efficient power supplies, battery back-up and custom servers.

In an unusual move, Facebook revealed the details of its data center design and created the Open Compute Project, an open source community, to help improve it. Facebook has partnered with Advanced Micro Devices, Intel, Quanta and others on the Open Compute Project, and is also working with Dell, HP, Rackspace, Skype and Zynga on new designs.

BACKGROUND: Facebook shares its data center secrets

Facebook's decision to open source its data center is "groundbreaking in terms of having the potential to make the whole industry more energy efficient," says Mark Monroe, executive director of The Green Grid, an industry group dedicated to improving the energy-efficiency of data centers. Facebook recently joined The Green Grid as a contributing member.

"For folks like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and eBay, their data center is their factory, and they are focused on making transactions happen at the lowest cost possible," Monroe says, adding that when these companies share their data center secrets it "really moves the whole industry forward."

"It would be hard to overstate the significance of Facebook's Open Compute Project," says Randy Smith, director of real estate with hosting company Rackspace. "It's long been mysterious and mystified in how large, Web-scale companies achieve the efficiency that they achieve. For Facebook to demystify this ... will have a ripple effect.''

Smith says most companies are not seeking to differentiate themselves in terms of their data center design, and yet there are efficiencies to be gained by copying companies like Facebook that are leaders in this area. "The more that efficiencies can be pushed out to companies that wouldn't otherwise enjoy them, the better," he adds.

Facebook's data center design is 38% more energy efficient than conventional designs. That's why companies planning to build data centers in the next three years are likely to borrow some of Facebook's ideas, experts say.

Facebook's data center design efficiency is rated as a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.07 -- one of the lowest reported design PUEs ever. With the PUE rating, the closer the number is to 1.0, the better.

"That's a fantastic number," Monroe says. "It'll be interesting to see if they are able to achieve it once they've populated the whole data center and measured the performance over a yearlong period."

DETAILS: After PUE, Green Grid creates metrics for carbon and water

Among the innovations in the Facebook data center design expected to be copied are the use of outside air cooling -- which is already popular in Europe -- instead of air conditioning. This alleviates the need for not only chillers but all of the duct work required by central air conditioning.

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