Facebook open sources its data centre secrets

8 Apr 2011

Facebook has revealed the secrets behind its data centre strategy that reduces energy consumption by up to 38pc and costs by 24pc.

Describing its approach as open source, Facebook makes significant use of scaled-down boxes with hot swappable drives to make repairs and upgrades faster and using larger but fewer fans.

The social networking giant that has more than 500m users worldwide, explained a small team of engineers have spent the last two years tackling the challenge of scaling its computing infrastructure to be efficient and economical.

The engineers tackled a big challenge: how to scale Facebook’s computing infrastructure in the most efficient and economical way possible.

“Working out of an electronics lab in the basement of our Palo Alto, California, headquarters, the team designed our first data centre from the ground up; a few months later we started building it in Prineville, Oregon,” said Facebook engineer Jonathan Heiliger.

“The project, which started out with three people, resulted in us building our own custom-designed servers, power supplies, server racks and battery backup systems.”

Facebook’s data centres use a 480-volt electrical distribution system to reduce energy loss. The team removed anything on the server boxes that didn’t contribute to efficiency. The centre reuses hot aisle air in winter to both heat its office and the outside air flowing into the centre and eliminates the need for a central uninterruptable power supply (UPS).

The result is Facebook’s data centre uses 38pc less energy and costs 24pc less.

“Inspired by the model of open-source software, we want to share the innovations in our data centre for the entire industry to use and improve upon.

Sharing innovation

“Today, we’re also announcing the formation of the Open Compute Project, an industry-wide initiative to share specifications and best practices for creating the most energy-efficient and economical data centres,” Heigler said.

As a first step, Facebook is publishing specifications and mechanical designs for the hardware used in its data centre, including motherboards, power supply, server chassis, server rack and battery cabinets.

“In addition, we’re sharing our data centre electrical and mechanical construction specifications. This technology enabled the Prineville data centre to achieve an initial power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.07, compared with an average of 1.5 for our existing facilities.

“Opening the technology means the community will make advances that we wouldn’t have discovered if we had kept it secret.

“Having efficient software and servers means we can support more people on Facebook and offer them new and real-time social experiences, such as the ability to see comments appear the instant they are written or see friends of friends appear dynamically as you search,” Heigler said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years