Facebook Shows Why Green Data Centers Matter

On Thursday, Facebook shared the nitty-gritty details of 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 companies like Google (s GOOG) and Yahoo (s YHOO) follow, and organizations like The Green Grid and the Environmental Protection Agency maintain.
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. For its facility in Prineville, Ore., Facebook designed the structure 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 hotter and more humid environment.
Similarly Yahoo has designed a data center off the idea 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.
Facebook touts more efficient use of the electricity coming into the facility, too, and they are using power at a higher voltage throughout the data center (277v compared with 208v). That cuts out a stage of power transformers. Facebook says only 7 percent of the power coming into the facility is lost in conversion, versus a typical data center that can lose 22 to 25 percent of the power in conversion. I talked to a few sources on this, and that higher voltage efficiency is actually quite small. European data center owners run their facilities in a similar way (but more because there is a different power standard over there).
In addition to reducing the cooling power Facebook says it has designed and built its servers to minimize power consumption, including using 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.
Now that Facebook’s designs and innovations are open for everyone to learn from and adopt, the trend of Internet companies incorporating these tools into their facilities will continue. Of course Greenpeace won’t be happy with Facebook until it adds more clean power to its energy sources. To hear more about green data centers and Greenpeace’s clean power cloud report, come to Green:Net on April 21 in San Francisco.