Facebook Open Sources Server, Data Center Specs

Facebook dings Google by releasing its Open Compute Project, open sourcing its hardware and data center specs for use by other companies who need to scale.

Facebook April 7 launched its Open Compute Project, an unprecedented play to open source the specifications it employs for its hardware and data center to efficiently power a social network comprising 600 million-plus people.

For the Open Compute Project, Facebook is publishing specs and mechanical designs used to construct its motherboards, power supply, server chassis, and server and battery cabinets. GigaOm has hard data points on the specs.

The company is also open sourcing specs for its data center's electrical and mechanical construction, including technical specs and mechanical CAD files.

The move is a significant departure from strategies of other companies, such as Google, Twitter, and Amazon, which closely guard their data center and hardware specifications to maintain a competitive edge in the cutthroat cloud-computing market.

"We think it's time to demystify the biggest capital expense of an online business-the infrastructure," said Jonathan Heiliger, vice president of technical operations at Facebook, at a media event at the company's Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters today.

Facebook broke ground on its first dedicated data center in Prineville, Ore., in January 2010. The data center employs an evaporative cooling system to cool the incoming air, as opposed to traditional chiller systems that require more energy-intensive equipment.

With the assistance of chipmakers AMD and Intel and server providers HP and Dell, Facebook engineers have spent tens of millions of dollars building custom servers and power supplies in the past year.

These data center solutions delivered a 38 percent increase in energy efficiency at 24 percent lower cost compared with Facebook's existing facilities, claimed Heiliger.

Moreover, this technology enabled the data center to earn an initial power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.07, pushing it well below the Environmental Protection Agency's standard mark of 1.5.

The Green Grid's PUE is an indicator of data center energy efficiency, and Facebook's Prineville plant ranks as good as it gets for a major data center.

Dell said it will design and build servers based on the Open Compute Project specification. Moreover, Synnex Corporation will sell Open Compute Project servers, which Facebook designed to be "vanity-free," or without the aesthetic bells and whistles of existing rack servers.

That means they feature no paint, logos, stickers, or front panel, saving more than 6 pounds of materials per server, explained Amir Michael, manager of hardware design and server-design overview for Facebook.

James Hamilton, vice president and distinguished engineer at Amazon Web Services, toured Facebook's Prineville data center in February and came away impressed by what he saw.

"I saw an unusually large number of elegant designs ranging from one of the cleanest mechanical systems I've come across, three phase 480VAC directly to the rack, a low-voltage, direct current, distributed uninterruptable power supply system, all the way through to custom server designs," Hamilton wrote on his personal blog.