Open Compute Project Could Increase Facebook’s and the Whole Tech Industry’s Data Center Efficiency


By Josh Constine Comment

Today, Facebook announced the Open Compute Project, a collaborative endeavor to design the most efficient computing and the most economical data centers possible. Facebook’s head of technical operations, Jonathan Heiliger, explained that the one and a half year project to redesign its servers and data centers has helped Facebook to make its Prineville, Oregon data center’s servers 38% more efficient and 24% cheaper than the servers it used to buy.

To help share the environmental and cost benefits with other companies, Facebook will make its new server and data center designs and schematics freely available.

We live-blogged the the press event held at Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters, where CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained how new features like real-time commenting and messaging systems requires more computing capacity, necessitating a more efficient data system.

Facebook has been criticized by Greenpeace for planning on using some coal energy in the Prineville center, despite other efforts to minimize environmental impact. The Open Compute Project could help to improve Facebook’s reputation in the green community.

The data centers and servers necessary to run the site aren’t cheap. In September 2010, a study estimated that Facebook was spending $50 million a year on data centers alone, not counting servers, the $200 million investment in its new Prineville, Oregon center, or the planned $450 million investment in another center in North Carolina. To reduce server strain, in 2010 Facebook switched to the HipHop PHP compiler it designed, reducing CPU usage by 50% and improving performance by 1.8 times.

Now, Facebook has re-imagined the concepts of the server and the data center, building from the ground up to radically increase efficiency. It will use a stripped down server chassis and a redesigned power supply. Its Prineville center will use no air conditioning, and will instead cool servers entirely with natural air flow.

These innovations will help Open Compute Project centers to attain a superior power usage efficiency rating, or ratio of total data center power usage to the power delivered to computing equipment. Facebook’s Prineville center now has a PUE rating of 1.07, compared to the industry standard of 1.5.

At the announcement, Facebook brought together leaders from some of the most data-intensive companies in the tech industry to discuss their plans for the Open Compute Project. Zynga says it is considering implement the insights from the project into the massive cloud computing systems that power its games. Though it hasn’t committed to integrating the changes, efficiency is crucial for Zynga, as it increased its server capacity by 75 times over a recent two year period. Rackspace said the project’s energy efficiencies could reduce its energy costs from $10 million to $6 million a year.

Through the Open Compute Project, Facebook has made its work to increase its own data efficiency scalable. If other companies agree to apply the Open Compute Project’s innovations, the aggregate benefit to the environment should quiet critics like Greenpeace. Even if it doesn’t gain traction with third-parties, the efficiency improvements should help Facebook’s site to continue to run swiftly into the future.