Facebook open sources its data centre blueprint

Facebook Inc. lifted the curtain on its data centre designs on Thursday, encouraging large enterprises to follow and improve upon the blueprint.

The social networking giant said the open source software world has flourished for many years, but this free exchange of ideas has yet to take hold in the hardware and data centre design space. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who unveiled the “Open Compute Project” at a news conference in the company’s Palo Alto, Calif. offices., said Facebook has been working on the initiative for over a year.

“What we want to do is share all of that progress that we’ve made with the industry and make it so that the server design and the data centre design becomes open and something that we can collaborate on,” Zuckerberg told event attendees. He added that this could foster an ecosystem where developers can easily build and grow startups.

The design uses no air conditioning or air ducts, relying instead on evaporative cooling and misting machines which flow air through grill covered walls. The server racks are taller to provide for bigger heat sinks and can easily be removed from the rack.

Facebook, which put its blueprint into practice at its recently opened Prineville, Ore.-based data centre facility, made the full designs available at http://opencompute.org/.

The company added that the designs have made its servers almost 40 per cent more energy efficient and slashed costs by close to 25 per cent. Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Intel Corp., HP Co. and Dell Corp. were among the companies that helped Facebook co-develop the server technology used in its designs.

Frank Frankovsky, director of technical operations at Facebook, said the motivation behind opening up its data centre design is to help demystify the space and lower energy usage at emerging Web companies around the world.

“Obviously, we’re not selling anything today, but we do hope to benefit from this,” he said. “The reason we’re doing it is to drive efficiency for ourselves, but by sharing it, we hope to propagate those benefits to others.”

In addition to gaining support from hardware manufacturers like Dell and Intel, Facebook is also getting cloud service providers excited to jump on-board.

“We’ve been developing our own IP around data centre design,” said Graham Weston, founder and chairman of hosting provider Rackspace Inc. “We’ll be flushing some of that to go with this open standards design.”

Weston added that a 10-megawatt data centre which might have a $10-million power bill every year could be cut down to about $6-million in power costs under the open standards. He said the designs are a huge leap forward away from huge compressors, chillers, water pumps and ducts.

Jason Waxman, a general manager with Intel’s server platforms group, applauded Facebook’s openness and its potential impact to data centres in emerging markets like China.

“It’s like showing people how to build the (Toyota) Prius,” he said.

Forrest Norrod, vice-president and general manager of Dell’s server platform unit, said the goal now will be to take the blueprint and make it more applicable for smaller companies that may not need such a large bite. He said Dell will continue working to address the problem at variously points of scale.

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