GM’s Charlie Wilson once said, "For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa." With GM waning in influence, perhaps Faebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has put new life into Wilson’s old line.

Facebook made a series of announcements yesterday that should shame many businesses that run data center operations like they were secrets in a war-time effort. For those of you who haven’t been following the news, Facebook revealed that its Prineville, OR, facility had achieved a PUE of 1.07. Furthermore Facebook posted specifications for its electrical, mechanical, battery backup, and rack systems in pdf format. CAD files are available for the rack systems.

With this announcement, Facebook joins an increasing number of large companies publicly sharing ways to make data centers more reliable and energy efficient. Though this decision may further business or marketing goals, sharing this kind of information about data centers is ultimately good for the nation, good for people, and good for the environment.

Facebook’s release reads: “Working out of an electronics lab in the basement of our Palo Alto, CA, headquarters, the team designed our first data center from the ground up; a few months later we started building it in Prineville, OR. The project, which started out with three people, resulted in us building our own custom-designed servers, power supplies, server racks, and battery backup systems.

 

“Because we started with a clean slate, we had total control over every part of the system, from the software to the servers to the data center. This meant we could:

  • Use a 480-volt electrical distribution system to reduce energy loss.
  • Remove anything in our servers that didn’t contribute to efficiency.
  • Reuse hot aisle air in winter to both heat the offices and the outside air flowing into the data center.
  • Eliminate the need for a central uninterruptible power supply
“The result is that our Prineville data center uses 38 percent less energy to do the same work as Facebook’s existing facilities, while costing 24 percent less.”
Facebook has also posted a terrific video discussing the project.
Already other bloggers have begun to discuss the significance of Facebook’s Open Compute Project, noting correctly that it challenges vendors to build more energy-efficient products and consultants to design more efficient facilities. Others have noted that smaller or more diverse enterprises will not be able to employ all the strategies employed by Facebook. These comments miss the point, I think.

“The ultimate goal of the Open Compute Project, however, is to spark a collaborative dialogue. We’re already talking with our peers about how we can work together on Open Compute Project technology. We want to recruit others to be part of this collaboration -- and we invite you to join us in this mission to collectively develop the most efficient computing infrastructure possible,” said the Facebook announcement.

“The ultimate goal of the Open Compute Project, however, is to spark a collaborative dialogue. We’re already talking with our peers about how we can work together on Open Compute Project technology. We want to recruit others to be part of this collaboration -- and we invite you to join us in this mission to collectively develop the most efficient computing infrastructure possible,” said the Facebook announcement.

I also think the Open Compute Initiative is a clever response by Facebook to months of unwarranted attacks from Greenpeace. Should this initiative meet its highest aspirations, the Open Compute Initiative could be an incubator where out-of-the-box thinking can be nurtured and brought to life, saving in just a few data centers enough energy and carbon emissions to satisfy Greenpeace.

Most important, I think, is that Facebook’s announcement should put on notice the data center owners and operators who think that energy-efficiency in their facilities constitutes a “competitive advantage.”

According to Facebook “Having efficient software and servers means we can support more people on Facebook and offer them new and real-time social experiences -- such as the ability to see comments appear the instant they are written or see friends of friends appear dynamically as you search.” Facebook grasps that new service and products are its competitive advantage; sharing the benefits of its learning with others will allow it to discount energy as a factor in rolling out new products as innovation drives these costs down for everyone.

Mission Critical applauds this initiative, and I hope to see the day when vendors, conference organizers, and my competitors will no longer hear that data center owners/operators are no longer willing to share their achievements for fear of losing competitive advantage. You see, I think that what is good for our country is good for the data center industry, and vice versa."