Facebook Codifies the Green Data Center

On Thursday, Apr. 7, Facebook shared the nitty-gritty details about the energy efficiency of its server and data center designs in its new Oregon-based facility. This is the latest example of how energy-efficient and green data centers are now—a must-have competitive advantage for a leading Internet company. The various energy-efficient innovations that Facebook unveiled today are largely best practices that such companies as Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO) follow and that organizations like the Green Grid and the Environmental Protection Agency support.

What green data center aspects did Facebook unveil? The biggest power factor in every data center is removing the large chillers that can account for up to half of a data center's power consumption. Facebook designed its facility in Prineville, Ore., to maintain evaporative cooling, which keeps the data center cool by spraying water into incoming air. Facebook says it has designed its servers to be able to work in that hot, relatively humid environment.

Similarly Yahoo has designed a data center after the concept of a chicken coop, which utilizes outside air and can reduce cooling power and costs. Google has also utilized evaporative cooling in its data centers.

Savings from Higher Voltage

Facebook boasts more efficient use of the electricity coming into the facility, too, and is using power at a higher voltage throughout the data center (277v compared with 208v). This cuts out a stage that demands power transformers. Facebook says that only 7 percent of the power coming into the facility is lost in conversion, vs. losses that can reach 22 percent to 25 percent of the power converted at a typical data center. I talked to a few sources on this, and it seems that the higher voltage efficiency is actually quite small. European data center owners run their facilities in a similar way (more because there is a different power standard there).

In addition to reducing cooling power, Facebook says it has designed and built its servers to minimize power consumption, including deploying server fans that account for 2 percent to 4 percent of energy consumption per server, compared to the industry average of 10 percent to 20 percent. Other server innovations include replacing a motherboard speaker with LED indicators, partly to save power.

Facebook's designs and innovations are open for everyone to study and adopt, maintaining the trend by which Internet companies will continue to incorporate these tools into their facilities. For its part, Greenpeace—which has complained that this data center will draw on electricity generated from coal consumption and nuclear power—won't be happy with Facebook until the company adds cleaner power to its energy sources. To hear more about green data centers and Greenpeace's clean power cloud report, come to Green:Net on Apr. 21 in San Francisco.

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