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Facebook to world: Clone your own data centers

Its Open Compute project aims to speed innovation and lower the environmental costs of cloud computing via an open-source foundation.

A Facebook data center: hardware specs open to all
A Facebook data center: hardware specs open to all

Facebook today created a foundation to lead Open Compute, borrowing the open source software model to advance a set of freely available data center designs in order to speed hardware innovation and reduce the environmental impact of cloud computing.

The company announced initial members and directors of the foundation at the second Open Compute Summit today in New York. It also intends to release details on its guiding principles and how projects will be proposed and handled.

Facebook launched the Open Compute Project in April under the idea that the designs and specifications of its data centers can be shared to speed up innovation and improve the energy efficiency of data centers at Facebook and the industry at large.

The company has already released its custom specifications for gear, such as motherboards, rack designs, and an efficient power delivery system which can handle both AC and DC. The basis for these specifications is Facebook's data center in Prineville, Oregon which has a power usage effectiveness ratio of 1.07, compared to 1.5 for its older ones.

Facebook's director of hardware design and supply chain Frank Frankovsky indicated that the project will be run in the same spirit of an open-source project where members from multiple companies can contribute ideas to a larger project.

"We need to continue to grow the community and enable it to take on new challenges. We need to ensure that, as the community evolves, it retains its flat structure and its merit-based approach to evaluating potential projects. And we need to keep the community focused on delivering tangible results," he wrote today.

Frankovsky is one of the directors of the project along with Andy Bechtolsheim from Arista Networks and Don Duet from Goldman Sachs. Among the first official members are hardware providers Intel, Dell, Mellanox, and Huawei, software companies Red Hat and Cloudera, and user companies Facebook, Mozilla, Rackspace, Netflix, NTT Data and Goldman Sachs.

Facebook stands to benefit from any enhancements the group makes on its designs and specifications, potentially getting access cost-effective efficiency improvements faster than its competitors. Energy consumption from running computer equipment and cooling is one of the biggest fixed costs of data centers, which as a group are consuming more energy each year.

Like other big data center operators, Facebook has been criticized by environmental advocacy group Greenpeace for not taking steps to lower pollution from their operations. Locating data center near sufficient sources of affordable power has become a significant challenge. In addition to improving energy efficiency, some companies, including Google and Apple, have taken steps to power their data centers with either wind or solar power.