Facebook throws down efficiency gauntlet with real-time data and open-source dashboards

When I first visited Facebook’s (s fb) data center in Prineville, Ore., in 2011, I felt privileged to spot some figures on the facility’s power-usage effectiveness (PUE) on a screen affixed to a wall. The PUE number, which gives a sense of how much of the energy gets consumed by computing gear, wasn’t exactly what some reporters wanted to know — total number of megawatts would have been better than PUE, and that sort of information came later — but it was a start toward transparency. Now, the PUE data won’t be such a big deal to catch a glimpse of anymore.

The social-networking giant is giving the general public access to near-real-time dashboards on PUE and another key measurement, water-usage effectiveness (WUE), alongside humidity and temperature data for its data centers in Prineville and in Forest City, N.C. Previously, the PUE and WUE figures were released quarterly. The new dashboards show data down to the minute, albeit with a two and a half hour lag. In the future, Facebook will also post a PUE and WUE dashboard for the data center it’s building in Luleå, Sweden.

The facilities are still under construction, and, as a result, the data in the two dashboards can have abnormalities, but it should become more stable over time. The company detailed its plans in a Thursday blog post on the Open Compute Project site.

Facebook's Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) and Water Usage Efficiency (WUE) dashboard

Facebook’s Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) and Water Usage Efficiency (WUE) dashboard

Facebook's Power Use Efficiency (PUE) and Water Use Efficiency (WUE) dashboards

Facebook’s Power Use Efficiency (PUE) and Water Use Efficiency (WUE) dashboard

To prod other companies operating data centers to share more up-to-date power- and water-usage data, Facebook will open-source the code for the dashboards. Similar data from other companies could make Facebook look good, as Facebook (along with Google) (s goog) is on the leading edge when it comes to PUE. A self-benchmarking guide on high-tech buildings from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory puts the standard data-center PUE at 2.0, a good one at 1.4 and a better one at 1.1. The PUE at Facebook’s data center in Prineville fluctuated between 1.06 and 1.08 on Thursday, and at the Forest City data center the PUE was between 1.08 and 1.1.

eBay, for its part, has released a dashboard showing PUE and WUE as well as other measurements, such as the number of checkout transactions per kilowatt-hour.

Innovations in hardware and software at Facebook’s data centers make lower energy use possible. Whether Facebook will be able to squeeze even more computing power out of its energy and water consumption is an interesting question, and now that more current data is being shared, it’s worth asking what innovations will come in the future. If Yahoo, (s yhoo) Microsoft (s msft) and others follow suit, the pressure will be on for data centers across the board to become more transparent. Those efforts could help data center operators respond to notions that data centers waste energy.

This post was updated at 5:24 p.m. to include federal benchmarking figures for power-usage efficiency (PUE) and current Facebook figures.