Corporations often times leave us all thinking that they are the titans that will rule our world if we are not careful. In the case of Facebook, it has not been much of a target except for fears about its use of subscriber data. In a recent move the company announced that, inspired by the open source software model, they would initiate the Open Compute Project. After investing millions building a new data center in Prineville, Oregon the company announced all of the design specs for the data center.  All of the specs were made public so others could easily emulate the data center, and it looks like Facebook is going green.

Facebook Open Compute

While that all may sound wonderfully altruistic and community centric the question comes up, “what makes this so important?” The answer is the focus on green issues, energy efficiency and better data center performance. First, the servers that they created for the data center are six pounds lighter than standard servers are, and are unpainted with no stickers or other external printing. This meant that there was 120 tons of material that did not need to be shipped, saving energy. The bare exterior saves on printing and other unnecessary elements that would use non-renewable resources.

That is some detailed stuff, and that is, for the most part, the kind of detailed thinking that Facebook put into these systems. The company custom designed two motherboards for the new servers, one for AMD processors and the other for Intel. What they also did was to remove any chip or feature that they did not explicitly need; no expansion slots or other hardware that had a function that could be replaced by remote virtual systems. This cut down on actual power usage and save money.

The servers themselves are 1.5U high. “1U” is the standard rack server height. The reason for the change is that it allows the servers to be fitted with bigger heat sinks and better airflow, making the servers run cooler while using with less energy. The Prineville data center was designed from the ground up to use as little energy as possible. The data center itself makes extensive use of passive heating and cooling systems, using heated air from between the server racks to heat the offices for example.

Another interesting innovation is that they use 480-volt power systems. This reduces the amount of line loss in the transmission of power further increasing efficiency. This is clearly a commitment to green principles and energy efficiency, so what’s up with Greenpeace attacking Facebook demanding that they “unfriend” coal?

Can’t Win For Losing

Prineville, Oregon, was chosen for a number of reasons for the data center’s location. The local power company still operates a number of coal fired generators which was the only drawback, and the reason that Greenpeace was offended. It decided that Facebook had “Friended” coal power. This kind of automatic negative reductionism results in companies not bothering to try to go green, or do anything else productive.

Facebook has given away much with this project. The data center costs 24 percent less to build that traditional data centers, a fact that they could have brokered into a data center business model, but didn’t. The overall performance of the data center, as measured by power consumption, is 38 percent better than any other, which is another fact that has capital value that they could have monetized, but didn’t.

This is a genuine effort to set the standard for using less power for our data needs because they are so huge. In 2007, it was estimated that data centers used 1.5 to 2 percent of the nation’s electricity. This number has doubled since then, and it will double again soon. The rush to cloud computing and online-based services will drive data center demand further increasing power usage in this sector. Whatever Greenpeace’s problem is, they need to “check their six.” Facebook may seem like the monster that will evolve into an Internet monopoly, but it is only trying to help, contributing to help our global energy crisis. What is not needed is Greenpeace throwing mud.

Photo: Facebook Prineville Datacenter from Flickr under CC licence

Jon T Norwood

Jon T Norwood

Jon T. Norwood is a managing partner at Bank Card Finder. This site helps consumers understand and manage personal finance.