Facebook's Iowa Data Center Goes Live

By Mike Allen

Posted On November 17, 2014


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"The Iowa data center operated by Facebook recently went live in a watershed moment for the social media titan, and for data center companies in general. The facility, located in Altoona, Iowa, is the first data center opened by the enterprise that was designed according to its forward-thinking specifications.

Opening on Nov. 14, Facebook's Iowa data center is the first of two facilities to be built in Altoona, joining the social network's facilities in Forest City, North Carolina, Prineville, Oregon and Luleå, Sweden. Among its innovative components, according to TechCrunch, are its cooling system, which utilizes 100 percent outside air, and it's being powered completely by renewable wind energy sources.

Getting Bandwidth to Users
Besides the green energy outfitting, as Facebook's Alexey Andreyev wrote in a blog post introducing the Iowa data center, the facility does away with the cluster system. This approach, which is in use in the company's previous data centers, is limited by the cluster switch's port density. The challenges of providing networking bandwidth to a user base incomparable with just about every site in the world has its own challenges: As the world's third-most popular website, Facebook is relied on by its 1.35 billion users around the world to be available at all times, and as Andreyev wrote, bandwidth infrastructure limitations and a lack of rapid-enough evolution led Facebook data center designers to experiment with doing away with the cluster system. This brought them to the pod system.

""For our next-generation data center network design we challenged ourselves to make the entire data center building one high-performance network, instead of a hierarchically oversubscribed system of clusters,"" Andreyev wrote. ""We also wanted a clear and easy path for rapid network deployment and performance scalability without ripping out or customizing massive previous infrastructures every time we need to build more capacity.""

By breaking down the network into server pods, units smaller than clusters, the Facebook team was able to develop faster, more uniform network connectivity across the data center. They then established four distinct ""planes"" of spine switches, to which fabric switches of each pod connect. The pods and planes network topology, Andreyev wrote, is able to support ""hundreds of thousands"" of servers, a scalability previously unattainable in the old model. TechCrunch's Frederic Lardinois wrote that Facebook has already increased its network capacity by 10 times, and suggested that 50-fold enhancement may not be far off.

Facebook's Iowa Data Center
The facility's construction was first announced in April 2013, according to PC Magazine contributor Angela Moscaritolo. The site manager of the Altoona data center, Brice Towns, wrote in a Facebook post that the build was the company's fastest-ever process. The company originally stated that it would invest nearly $300 million in the project, although Mascaritolo said that experts have predicted the overall costs may surpass $1.5 billion. The first facility is 476,000 square feet on a 194-acre site, and connects to a nearby wind farm in Wellsburg, Iowa. The Iowa data center also utilizes hardware and construction techniques included in the Open Compute Project, of which Facebook is one of its chief supporters."


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Mike Allen

"The Iowa data center operated by Facebook recently went live in a watershed moment for the social media titan, and for data center companies in general. The facility, located in Altoona, Iowa, is the first data center opened by the enterprise that was designed according to its forward-thinking specifications. Opening ...