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Facebook Rethinks How It Builds Data Centers: Legos or IKEA?

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Is this what Facebook’s data centers will look like in the future? This illustration depicts one of several new designs Facebook is developing. Click for a larger image.

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?”

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Marco Magarelli from Facebook’s Strategic Engineering & Development team discusses new approaches to data center construction during the open Compute Summit last week in San Jose, Calif. (Photo: Colleen Miller)

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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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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2 Comments

  1. I would think Facebook would be large enough to have teamed with AT&T or Verizon to combine the packaging of a data center module with cellular capabilities, put them on a trailer and have them stationed all over the U.S. and the world to be dispatched to sporting events (Super Bowl, Olympics, etc), where people are sharing content and, unfortunately, chewing up bandwidth. If you had these trailers with refer units, cooling wouldn't be a problem. You've already brought cellular capabilities to the people. The next step is to bring the data to the people, Facebook.

  2. The fact that their new data center will be powered by wind is incredible. A thumbs up for the Mr Green. I think they will go down the Ikea route as the individual part numbers will decrease compared to Lego. Great read Rich as always. Thanks