SAN JOSE, Calif. – Is Facebook ready to ditch its penthouse? The company is working on ways to streamline its data center construction, but it hasn’t yet decided whether to go the Lego route or try the IKEA approach.
Facebook has built three massive data center campuses, but wants to accelerate the process and create a repeatable design for a “Rapid Deployment Data Center” that can work anywhere in the world. The goal is to effectively cut construction time in half.
“We’d like to deliver twice the amount of data space in the time it would normally take,” said Marco Magarelli, Facebook Strategic Engineering & Development team. “We wanted to find new ways of doing things faster and better. So we got together with some industry experts in data center design and lean construction approaches, like those often used in hospital buildings.”
In a session at last week’s Open Compute Summit, Magarelli discussed the outcome of this process, outlining two new design concepts that Facebook is considering for its future facilities. One design involves a modular approach to construction, shipping large pre-fabricated “building blocks” that can be rapidly put together, much like Legos, to create a building. The second design focuses on the use of IKEA-style kits filled with lightweight parts that can be assembled on-site to create rows of racks and ducting inside a data hall.
Both approaches would totally revamp the way Facebook cools its servers. The company currently employs a “penthouse” cooling system which uses the upper floor of the building as a large cooling plenum with multiple chambers for cooling, filtering and directing the fresh air used to cool the data center.
The new designs shift the cooling chambers to the perimeters of a single-story facility, dramatically shrinking the amount of real estate required for cooling.
“This opens up the possibility of removing structure,” said Magarelli. “Can we take away the penthouse?”
Let’s take a closer look at both design concepts:
Vendor One: Chassis Approach
The first approach looked at new ways to package the infrastructure for Facebook’s data centers, seeking to transport components in large building blocks that could be assembled on-site. This concept has been widely used with modular data centers, which use factory-built “skids” of power and cooling equipment to supply the back-end infrastructure, and containerized data halls to house servers.
Facebook prefers a data hall to modules, so it sought ways to containerize elements of its server area. Working with a vendor, it first examined whether it could fully package its containment systems and overhead ductwork.
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