Facebook Pulls Back Curtain on Green Data Center Secrets

Facebook has launched a major new initiative designed to share its server and data center designs with rivals, in a move that the company claims could save enough energy to power more than 100,000 homes.

The Open Compute Project (OCP) will allow the wider IT industry to access the design secrets behind the social network's new data center in Prineville, Ore., which the company says uses 38 percent less power than existing server farms.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said that engineers have been working for the past 18 months on new designs that would fit large-scale computing needs while significantly enhancing energy efficiency.

"We want to share that knowledge with the industry and make server and data center design open," he said. "We're trying to foster ecosystems for the development of business startups. It's really cool. We're not the only ones who need this hardware and by sharing there will be more demand for the stuff we need, which makes it cost effective."

Jonathan Heiliger, vice president of technical operations at Facebook, said that central to its strategy was power usage effectiveness (PUE), which is the ratio of power spent on computing versus that used to run and cool the facility.

The ideal PUE is a rating of 1.0 -- meaning 100 percent of power went to computing -- but data centers typically operate at a PUE of 1.5. Facebook's new data center operates at a PUE of 1.07.

"A typical data center consumes about $1 million per megawatt each year, so this design would cut the annual power budget for an average site from $10 million to $6 million," said Graham Weston, chairman at data center provider Rackspace, which has worked on the OCP initiative.

"We had [been] developing our own intellectual property around this issue, but will be flushing that to go with this open source design, because we believe in open source."

Facebook has deployed several customized designs and technologies at the new facility, including stripping out non-essential parts from servers and other systems, such as paint and logos -- a move the company says has saved six pounds of materials per server.

Switching just one quarter of U.S. data centers to the specifications released by the OCP would save enough power for more than 160,000 homes, according to Facebook.

The move follows a campaign orchestrated by Greenpeace called "Facebook: Unfriend Coal," which has protested against the company's reliance on coal power for its data centers.

"If Facebook wants to be a truly green company, it needs to reduce its gas emissions," Casey Harrell, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace, told the BBC. "The way to do that is decouple its growth from its emissions footprint by using clean, renewable energy to power its business instead of dirty coal and dangerous nuclear power."

This story originally appeared at BusinessGreen.com and is reprinted with permission. A version of this article first appeared at BusinessGreen's sister site V3.co.uk.

Underlying image CC licensed by Flickr user cbowns.