Open Data Centers

April 9, 2011

By this time, I imagine that almost everyone is at least a bit familiar with the idea of open-source software, which I’ve written about here before.  A recent article at Technology Review reports on a new variation of the idea, launched by the social networking site Facebook.  The company is just putting the finishing touches on a new data center that it has constructed in Oregon, and is publishing its design on the Web, as part of a new “Open Compute” project.

The open hardware designs are for a new data center in Prineville, Oregon, that will be switched on later this month. The 147,000-square-foot building will increase Facebook’s overall computing capacity by around half; the social network already processes some 100 million new photos every day, and its user base of over 500 million is growing fast.

Traditionally, major Internet companies, like Google or Amazon, have been secretive about their data center facilities.  Although I suspect that this stems partly from security concerns, it is a bit ironic, since many of these systems make extensive use of open-source software components, such as the Apache Web server and the Linux operating system.  These companies are, after all, not in the data center design business, so there is no obvious competitive reason for them to refuse to discuss designs.

As the article explains, one of Facebook’s key objectives in designing the new data center and its components was to improve efficiency, particularly energy efficiency.

The plans reveal the fruits of Facebook’s efforts to create one of the most energy-efficient data centers ever built. Unlike almost every other data center, Facebook’s new building doesn’t use chillers to cool the air flowing past the servers. Instead, air from the outside flows over foam pads moistened by water sprays to cool by evaporation. The building is carefully oriented so that prevailing winds direct outside air into the building in both winter and summer.

The Open Compute Project site has an introductory video, in which members of Facebook’s technical staff describe the project.  The site also has detailed information, specifications, and CAD drawing files for the electrical and cooling systems in the data center, and for the custom-designed servers that will be installed there.  There is a great deal of information provided, which Facebook hopes others can work with and improve upon.  Even if you are not a data center designer, it may be interesting to see some of the issues and problems that have to be addressed in building this kind of facility.

I think it is commendable that Facebook has decided to make this information available, and I hope others will follow their example.


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