Facebook to Build Its Own Data Centers

Facebook has decided to begin building its own data centers, and may announce its first facility as soon as tomorrow. The fast-growing social network has previously leased server space from wholesale data center providers.

Rich Miller

January 21, 2010

3 Min Read
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A look at the fully-packed racks inside a Facebook data center facility.


A look at the fully-packed racks inside a Facebook data center facility.

Facebook has decided to begin building its own data centers, and may announce its first facility as soon as tomorrow. The fast-growing social network has previously leased server space from wholesale data center providers, but has grown to the point where the economics favor a shift to a custom-built infrastructure.

"Facebook is always looking at ways to scale our infrastructure and better serve our users," said Facebook spokesperson Kathleen Loughlin said last week. "It should come as no surprise that, at some point, building a customized data center will be the most efficient and cost effective way to to do this. However, we have nothing further to announce at this time."

UPDATE: Facebook has confirmed that it will build a 147,000 square foot data center project in Prineville, Oregon.

Not Google or Yahoo
The data center is being built by Vitesse LLC on behalf of an unidentified tenant. But Vitesse has said Company X is not either Google or Yahoo. Data center industry chatter suggests the tenant is a large social networking site - which usually means Facebook.

Facebook's move to build its own data centers was foreshadowed by its plans to implement custom servers and an innovative power path design, which will allow the company to reduce the energy loss during power distribution from the current 35 percent to about 15 percent.

Designed for Efficiency
The new design foregoes traditional uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and power distribution units (PDUs) and adds a 12 volt battery to each server power supply. This approach was pioneered by Google, which last year revealed a custom server that integrates a 12 volt battery, which the company cited this design as a key factor in the exceptional energy efficiency data for its data centers.

Facebook’s extraordinary growth has forced the company to continually invest in its infrastructure. The social network, which recently crossed the 350 million user barrier, has expanded by leasing space from “wholesale” data center landlords,including Digital Realty Trust, DuPont Fabros Technologies and Fortune Data Centers.

Since the beginning of 2009, Facebook has signed two leases for additional space in the ACC5 data center in Ashburn, Virginia operated by DuPont Fabros. The company has also added a data center in Santa Clara operated by Digital Realty, and from Fortune down the road in San Jose.

Switch From Wholesale Approach
Wholesale providers build the data center, including the raised-floor rechnical space and the power and cooling infrastructure, and then lease the completed facility. The tenant pays a significant premium over typical leases for office space, but is spared the large capital investment to construct the data center. This has positioned Facebook to continue growing rapidly without having to build its own facilities.

But Facebook has now decided to join the club of huge Internet companies that build their own data centers, a group which includes Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay and Oracle. This typically requires a larger up-front investment in construction and equipment, but allows greater customization of power and cooling infrastructure.

The Appeal of Hydro Power
The Prineville site is several hours from an existing Google data center in The Dalles and a Boardman site where Amazon is said to be resuming construction on a major data center project. The Prineville site is located near the Prineville Airport in an enterprise zone, which allows the city to waive property taxes for eligible projects.

The project is the latest indicator of the growing appeal of the Pacific northwest as a destination for companies seeking the lowest operating costs for their data centers. The region’s abundant supply of affordable hydro power is a major factor in its appeal, as are tax incentives like the tax exemption being discussed in Prineville.

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