Internet giants, the web-scale data center operators like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, or Apple, like to talk publicly about the massive data centers they design and build themselves to deliver their services around the world. These are usually state-of-the-art super-efficient facilities promoted as part of these companies’ overall corporate responsibility stories.
What they don’t like to draw too much attention to is all the data center capacity they lease from commercial data center providers – the likes of Digital Realty Trust, DuPont Fabros Technology, or Switch.
Both Microsoft and Facebook, for example, are DFT’s biggest tenants, each contributing about 20 percent to the wholesale data center provider’s annual rent revenue, according to a recent investor-day presentation. Facebook is also Digital Realty’s fifth-largest tenant, leasing space in four locations, according to a company fact sheet.
Las Vegas-based Switch lists Google and Amazon as its customers. eBay uses a lot of space and power across Switch’s massive Las Vegas campus and will be the anchor tenant at the provider’s Reno, Nevada, facility that’s currently under construction.
But web-scale companies control information about their data center infrastructure tightly, and while some of them have released some information about their cutting-edge flagship facilities, leased sites, if mentioned at all, are usually mentioned only in passing.
So, when Reuters reported earlier this month that Facebook was planning its “first Asia-Pacific data center in Taiwan,” citing a hopeful local official, the first question for us was, “isn’t there already a Facebook data center in Asia?” Turns out there is.
Facebook is leasing space at a Digital Realty facility in Singapore, according to an industry source who wished to remain anonymous.
A Facebook spokesman said the company did not have a data center in Asia, but Facebook is advertising for a data center network engineer position in Singapore. Ken Patchett, a senior data center manager at Facebook, recently told The Atlantic that the company’s “West” region data centers included Singapore.
Facebook entered the list of Digital Realty’s top-five tenants last year. This was while the social network was winding down its footprint in leased wholesale facilities in the US, consolidating into the new data centers it had designed and built itself and subleasing much of the wholesale space that was still under contract.
Asked about the sudden change in Facebook’s ranking as a tenant on the data center provider’s earnings call for the fourth quarter of 2014, Matthew Miszewski, senior VP of sales and marketing at Digital Realty, said, "We've had a historical fantastic relationship [with Facebook], and that relationship continued in 2014, especially in Q1 in 2014... We're very satisfied that their take in 2014 with us is a very long-term relationship in a market that is growing even faster from a social-media perspective than is the US market.”
It’s not surprising that Singapore is home to a Facebook data center. The tiny city state is a key Asian business center and network interconnection hub and one of two main internet gateways to mainland China. The other is Hong Kong. Many US or European companies that want to provide services over the internet in Asia use data centers in either Singapore or Hong Kong, or both.
As of last month, Facebook had about 500 million Facebook subscribers in Asia, according to Internet World Stats. According to Facebook’s official statistics, there were slightly over 1 billion daily active users of the social network globally in September, the most recent month for which the data is available.
The big data centers internet giants build and own and the smaller footprint they lease from commercial providers to widen geographic scale are not the only facilities they use to provide their services. They also have many small network POPs (Points of Presence) in data centers around the world and use their own or service providers’ caching sites.
So, when a county official in Taiwan says Facebook is evaluating potential data center sites in the country, it may very well be so, but it doesn’t mean the company doesn’t already have a data center in the region. It's also possible that Singapore is not the only place in Asia where Facebook already has a data center.