Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour

Facebook's cutting-edge data center in the high desert of Oregon represents the future. Take a look at the technologies and choices that make it tick.

Charles Babcock

March 1, 2013

10 Slides

It rises out of the rocky central Oregon desert like a fortress, albeit an inviting one: Facebook's first data center complex, located on a mesa on the outskirts of Prineville, population 10,000.

This is what the data center of the future looks like: massive complexes built near cheap power supplies in climatically favorable settings, designed to power huge Internet-based applications with minimal staff.

With Apple building a data center complex next door to Facebook's facility, Prineville, Ore., might one day be known as one of the few mega-data center concentrations in the world.

[ See our related feature story, Facebook's Data Center: Where Likes Live, for more details on the power-saving technologies at work in Prineville. ]

This high desert seldom gets warmer than 86 degrees, even at the peak of summer, and nights are cool most of the year. The modern design of Facebook's building takes advantage of the climate by using evaporation as its sole cooling process. Servers run in a warm 80-degree atmosphere; on warm days, the air used for cooling moves closer to 85 degrees, according to Facebook data center managers. The Prineville facility currently consists of two massive 330,000-square-foot data halls, with room for a third on the site. A similar facility is already operating in Lulea, Sweden, and a third is currently under construction in Forest City, N.C. Like Sweden, central Oregon uses cheap hydroelectric power. Large dam projects such as Bonneville pump power into distribution lines to reach markets in California and Nevada.

Since April 2011, Prineville has been Exhibit A for the Open Compute Project, when Facebook, unlike other cloud data center builders, chose to share its data center and server design plans. Frank Frankovski, VP of hardware design and supply chain operations at Facebook, and others have carried the message in a series of Open Compute summits. Project managers at data center builders such as DPR Construction say Open Compute is having an impact on the industry as a whole. Companies such as Sun Microsystems, Google and Microsoft also have built efficient data centers and have boasted of their Power Unit Efficiency (PUE) rating. But no company has yet been able to top Prineville's PUE of 1.06 in Building Two of the complex.

Facebook has had a big impact on the Prineville area, increasing its tax base, providing construction and data center jobs, and donating directly to the community.

Take a look at what we learned and saw on a recent tour.

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