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Facebook busts ground on first custom data center

Follows Google and Microsoft into chillerless club

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Facebook is building its first custom-designed data center, after years of leasing data center space from third parties.

Yesterday, the social networking giant broke ground on a new facility in Prineville, Oregon, a small rural community in the northwest United States. "We are designing a facility that will be highly efficient and cost-effective for our operations today and into the future," vice president of technical operations Jonathan Heiliger wrote in a blog post.

"As our user base continued to grow and we developed Facebook into a much richer service, we reached the point where it was more efficient to lease entire buildings on our own. We are now ready to build our own."

As part of its efficiency efforts, Heiliger says, Facebook will use outside air and evaporated water to cool the facility as opposed to chillers. Outside air will be used about 60 to 70 per cent of the time, with the "evaporative cooling system" kicking in when outside temperature and humidity rises above acceptable levels.

Google is already operating a chillerless data center in Belgium. And Microsoft recently unveiled its own in Ireland. But these have very different backup systems. Microsoft uses Direct eXpansion (DX) cooling, similar to traditional air conditioning units, while Google (apparently) uses a software system dubbed Spanner that automatically shifts load to other data centers when the outside temperature gets too high.

Heiliger also said that the facility will capture a portion of the heat generated by servers to heat its office space, and it will debut a patent-pending uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system that reduces electricity usage by as much as 12 percent.

Facebook has yet to respond to questions about the cost of the data center or the specific server and other hardware technologies it will use. But as noticed by the Bend Bulletin - the local Oregon paper - public records show the facility will cost around $188m.

Naturally, the new data center has its own Facebook page. Here, the company says it intends to hire 35 full-time employees to help run the data center, and these workers will earn 150 per cent of the local prevailing wage. Facebook will begin hiring in the third quarter of 2010, when it expects the 147,000-square-foot building will be near completion. The project will take about a year.

Facebook will also employ about 200 workers during construction, with "as many as possible" coming from local companies, and in addition to its 35 full-time employees, the company will hire various contractors for such tasks as janitorial, security, landscaping, and maintenance duties. ®

Update

Facebook has responded to say that its current budgetary estimate for the facility is around $180 million, but this spans several years. The company declined to share information on server technology or server counts. "Right now we are focused on building the actual building, which should take about a year. When we have plans about what type of servers we will use, we will share more at that time," said a company spokeswoman.

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