Facebook makes its server, data center design open-source

The social network's new Open Compute Project allows industry peers to access the design and power specifications of the large data centers and servers Facebook uses at its Prineville, Ore., location.

A three-column custom-built Facebook server rack. The social network is open-sourcing the specs of its server and data center design with the Open Compute Project.
A three-column custom-built Facebook server rack. The social network is open-sourcing the specs of its server and data center design with the Open Compute Project. James Martin/CNET

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Finding that industry standard servers weren't meeting their needs, Facebook began designing its own servers and the data centers they sit in starting a year ago. Today the company shared the specifications for others who want to build their own servers like Facebook as part of an open-source effort they're calling the Open Compute Project.

"What we learned as we transitioned from being a small start-up--one office in a garage--to where we are today--a slightly bigger start-up--is that there are a couple ways you can go about designing data centers and servers," said CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "You can build them yourselves and work with ODMs (original design manufacturers) or you can basically get whatever the products are that the mass manufacturers of servers put out. We found the mass manufacturers weren't in line with what we needed and what social apps need."

Head of Facebook technical operations Jonathan Heiliger said it had taken three people a year and a half at the company's Prineville, Ore., data center to get their data center and servers to achieve higher efficiency and cost effectiveness. Because they want to encourage innovation and drive the cost down for building more of these, Facebook says they want to share it with their competitors and peers.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about why industry standard servers weren't meeting Facebook's needs.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about why industry standard servers weren't meeting Facebook's needs. James Martin/CNET

"It's time to stop treating data centers like Fight Club and demystify them," said Heiliger.

Open Compute includes all the specs, schematics, and basic instructions for building a data center and the servers inside them in the style of Facebook, which needs lots of computing power for its 500 million users sharing pictures, links, and messages in real time.

What Facebook says makes its server and data center design worthy of being copied is the power efficiency they've achieved and the money they're able to save.

The big things that set apart Facebook's data center design is that there's no air conditioning, which sucks extra power, in their data center. Instead there's a water-misting system for cooling and the hot air coming off the servers is recycled for heating attached buildings. The data center also uses 480-volt electrical distribution centers throughout.

The server chassis itself has been stripped down to almost nothing, using 22 percent fewer materials, according to Amir Michael, who designed the new server for Facebook. They've employed a non-industry standard size server that's a little taller, 1.5u height, which allowed taller heat sinks and larger fans, and utilized a more efficient power supply, he said.

Overall, Facebook says they've created servers that are 38 percent more efficient than the ones they were buying, and simultaneously saved 24 percent in costs. And they hope the wider technology community will improve those numbers once they get their hands on Facebook's blueprint.

In a marketing video shown after the presentation, Heiliger sent a message to the industry. "Use it, improve it, and adapt it. Take our philosophy and adopt it in your own business. Sharing software has existed for many years, but it hasn't established a foothold in the hardware industry yet."

 

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