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Facebook shares its data centre secrets

by Scott Bicheno on 8 April 2011, 12:45

Tags: Facebook

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Open warfare

As far back as the the middle of 2009, Facebook was complaining about the server hardware needed to run its site. As the site has grown, so have its computing needs, leading the social networking giant to build its very own data centre.

As you would expect, Facebook strove to make its first such facility state of the art, and boasted that it delivered a 38 percent increase in energy efficiency at 24 percent lower cost. But in a surprise move, Facebook decided to release the details of all this technology via the Open Comoute Project.

"Facebook and our development partners have invested tens of millions of dollars over the past two years to build upon industry specifications to create the most efficient computing infrastructure possible," said Jonathan Heiliger, VP of technical operations at Facebook.

"These advancements are good for Facebook, but we think they could benefit all companies. Today we're launching the Open Compute Project, a user-led forum, to share our designs and collaborate with anyone interested in highly efficient server and data centre designs. We think it's time to demystify the biggest capital expense of an online business - the infrastructure."

Facebook says it's inspired by the success of open source software, and we imagine it has been especially struck by the rapid ascendance of Android, the open source mobile platform owned by its biggest rival - Google. There's lots of talk about ‘best practice', and a spot of greeenwashing, but this may well be a cunning move by Facebook to ensure it remains competitive with Google in the data centre arena.

A good analysis of this move can be found at Ars Technica. The author points out that companies like Google and Facebook are essentially hardware companies that use their extensive data centre resources to host internet traffic, which they then monetise primarily through advertising.

In contrast to Android, Google is quite secretive about its data centres, and Facebook may be thinking that the ‘free' technical collaboration it will get as a result of opening up its own technology will enable it to create more efficient data centres, and thus cut down on overheads and increase profitability.

The rest of the server hardware world has been quick to announce its collaboration with the project. This looks like a very much x86-dominated venture, with Intel, AMD, HP and Dell all quick to applaud the move, as well as the likes of Rackspace and power-users like Fidelity Investments and Zynga, and assorted green types.

You can find out more about this initiative at http://opencompute.org/, including details of the hardware and technology being used. What better way to spend a sunny Friday afternoon?



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