More about companies in this post: Amazon - Apple - eBay - Facebook - Google - Microsoft - Yahoo

Facebook Publishes Server & Data Center Designs, PUE Performance

We first looked at the impact of social media in 2007 with Virtual Worlds Leave a Real World Carbon Footprint. Since then, there has been increasing focus on the mega-data centers that underlie the most popular services. Facebook, who has opted for a custom server approach to reducing PUE, has take the unique step of publishing its server and facility designs. Facebook calls this the Open Compute Project (OCP). The Project just picked up a surprising ally - Greenpeace.

The company wrote in April 2011, "our Prineville data center uses 38 percent less energy to do the same work as Facebook’s existing facilities, while costing 24 percent less [and] achieve an initial power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.07, compared with an average of 1.5 for our existing facilities."

Facebook provided an Prineville update in November 2011:

Some of the innovative features of the electrical distribution system are DC backup and high voltage (480 VAC) distributions, which have eliminated the need for centralized UPS and 480V-to-208V transformation. The built-in penthouse houses the chiller-less air conditioning system that uses 100% airside economization and evaporative cooling to maintain the operating environment.

These features have enabled Facebook to reduce the energy consumption of the data center significantly, which is reflected in power usage effectiveness (PUE) of the facility. The PUE of the Prineville data center was 1.07 at full load, which was verified during commissioning. Since then, during normal operation of the facility, the PUE has varied between 1.06 and 1.1.

It remains to be seen if hardware vendors embrace Facebook's server design, which might be seen as reducing vendor products to commodities. Some aspects of Facebook's server design require specialized power delivery within a facility, as noted above,which may also inhibit adoption.

Greenpeace in early 2010 called on Facebook to use 100% renewable energy. "Facebook should commit to stop using coal and choose renewable power for all its servers as soon as possible…Data centres are heavy users of electricity. It's been a while since Facebook was run on a small computer in a Harvard University dorm…Companies who run their data centres on energy from burning coal are supporting the biggest source of man made CO2 emissions in the world. Our activists will continue to protest against coal-fired power plants. But getting companies like Facebook to switch to renewables is necessary for the energy revolution too -- reducing demand for coal, and investing in a green future instead." Greenpeace says Prineville's power supply mix is 63% coal.

Companies are building Oregon data centers to take advantage of renewable Columbia River hydro-electric power, but Facebook has not explicitly committed to doing so. Instead, the company appears to making a renewables investment in Europe.

The Guardian reported in October 2011 that Facebook is building a data center which "will be powered mainly by renewables and handle all data processing from Europe, the Middle East and Africa…it had picked the northern Swedish city of Lulea, just 100km south of the Arctic Circle, because of its access to renewable energy and the cold climate that is crucial for keeping the servers cool…" (More on siting data centers in cold climates.)

The Guardian quotes Greenpeace as saying, "This is a great step forward. With the IT sector – one of the fastest growing consumers of electricity in the world – Facebook's taking leadership on renewable energy could help determine whether we have a dirty 'cloud' or not."

The resolution to the Greenpeace/Facebook dispute came in December 2011. The two companies issued a joint statement outlining commitments by both companies. Facebook agreed to adopt "a siting policy that states a preference for access to clean and renewable energy supply" and to engage "in a dialogue with our utility providers about increasing the supply of clean energy that power Facebook data centers", among others. One of Greenpeace's commitments is to "Active support for the Open Compute Project, including encouraging companies to join the effort…"

Directory of Data Center Energy Saving Systems

It would be interesting to know much impact the technology supplied by SynapSense has had on these results. I mention SynapSense as they claim Facebook as a customer of their SynapSense Active Control™ system. It uses wireless sensors to measure server inlet temperature and subfloor pressure differential to dynamically manage CRAH temperature set points and variable fan speeds.

Open4Energy has been publishing a comprehensive Directory of Data Center Energy Saving Systems for the last few years. But it has not been easy to get any of the companies who claim solutions, or their customers to publish independently verifiable results.

SynapSense and Sentilla (both can be found in the directory) have the wireless sensing capabilities required to get at actionable environmental data - but it is hard to tell how much of what they say is vision (nothing wrong with this) and how much has been implemented as proven Watt saving. Both companies are certainly active enough when it comes to raising venture monies, issuing press releases and attending conventions.

I did search the posting by Facebook on their open compute project, but could find no mention of SynapSense or how they measured the humidity and other environmental factors quoted. It was interesting to see the photographs of condensation, as much as it was concerning to think that the best approach to an energy efficient data center is to locate it in some distant cold place, and use it like an expensive heater!


"Facebook has responded to the criticism on Greenpeace’s website (hat tip Data Center Knowledge), defending the choice to build the data center in Oregon and explaining that the location is particularly good for energy efficiency.

In the comment section of Greenpeace’s website, Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications Barry Schnitt says that because the climate in Prineville, Oreg. is dry and temperate, Facebook’s data center will not use any of the large chillers that traditional data centers use, which can sometimes account for half of a data center’s energy consumption. Instead, Facebook’s data center will use an evaporative cooling system, which Schnitt compares to the efficiency of overhead fans.

Good for Facebook - although I do not fully agree with all they do, I have serious concerns about Greenpeace's legitimacy to bloviate on data center energy efficiency.

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