Facebook lifts the lid on its water, energy use

Two years ago, Facebook created the Open Compute Project to rewrite the rules for data center efficiency, by using approaches that could be shared with other organizations.

This week, it started publishing the results of that work in the form of two public dashboards that track near real-time energy and water usage at its locations in Prineville, Ore., and Forest City, N.C.

Its progress so far is notable. Facebook estimates that the "vanity-free servers" and best practices embraced by its newest sites have created environments that are 38 percent more efficient and 25 percent less expensive to run than other state-of-the-art data centers.

The dashboards, designed by interactive agency Area17, specifically showcase Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) -- measures developed by The Green Grid industry coalition. They track data both for the past 24 hours, as well as during the past year. Information for a third site in Lulea, Sweden, will be added later this year when it comes online.

"All our data centers are literally still construction sites, with new data halls coming online at different points throughout the year," wrote Lyrica McTiernan, program manager for Facebook's sustainability team, in an Open Compute blog post describing the project.

"Since we've created dashboards that visualize and environment with so many shifting variables, you'll probably see some weird numbers from time to time. That's OK. These dashboards are about surfacing raw data -- and sometimes raw data looks messy. But we believe in iteration, in getting projects out the door and improving them over time."

In the spirit of the Open Compute Project, Facebook plans to publish the front-end code for the dashboards. That is so other organizations can use them to analyze and share information about PUE, WUE, temperature and humidity -- either internally with the sustainability team or externally with other stakeholders.

It is also encouraging companies that submit their own ideas for improvements and updates, treating the dashboards as a "starting point."

Facebook has been far more actively focused on energy efficiency since its highly public feud with Greenpeace, which has been highly critical in the past of the social network giant's heavy dependence on coal-fired electricity. The Open Compute Project was born out of its commitment in late 2011 to address those concerns.

For obvious reasons, e-commerce giant eBay is also watching the link between its technical infrastructure, electricity sourcing needs and environmental impact very closely -- although it is aligning that information much more closely with key performance indicators for the company as a whole.

Its Digital Service Efficiency methodology introduced in March tracks how many "buy" or "sell" business transactions are completed per kilowatt-hour of electricity.