How Top Companies Design and Run Their Data Centers (Part 1: Facebook)

26 Aug 2014 by Technology

"Companies these days produce more data than ever before. And that information needs a place to stay. Hence, the enterprise data center. For smaller companies, leasing a center space may be an option. But for large organizations - particularly those with a tech focus - constructing individualized centers is of paramount importance. Oftentimes, the design and day-to-day functions of a large corporation'sdata centers can speak volumes about the enterprise itself. In tracing the data center solutions employed by some of the more influential companies out there, we hope to illustrate how putting thought and care into data center construction is absolutely integral to the operations of the business as a whole. Indeed, it is by no means incidental that the businesses most tapped into the zeitgeist are also those with the most cutting-edge data center solutions.


Founded in 2004, Facebook has over the course of a single decade fundamentally shaped the way our world presents itself, interacts with others and forges new connections. At the center of Facebook's second-to-second operations is a veritable treasure trove of user-generated data. Every time a person likes a post, updates their status, joins a new group or adds a photo album of that most recent European trip, that creates pieces of data that must be housed somewhere. For this reason, data center choices constitute a significant part of Facebook's business. In order to stay ahead of the game as far as social media goes, the company must make a stringent effort to oversee some of the most sustainable data centers out there.

According to Data Center Knowledge, Facebook regulates an infrastructure that sees an average of about 1 trillion page views on a monthly basis. When it comes to sites that are frequented the most by users on the Internet, Facebook comes out ahead of anyone else - even Google. All told, the social networker accounts for 9 percent of the world's Internet traffic. Because the site features such a flurry of activity, it would never be feasible for Facebook to only rent out data center space. In addition, they had to build their own custom data centers. The first of the company's centers was launched in Prineville, Oregon. Initially planned to be around 140,000 square feet, the size of the center more than doubled during construction until it reached over 300,000 square feet.

Despite its massive size, the Prinveille center is run to leave as small of a footprint as possible. A photo tour of the center conducted by ReadWrite reveals that outside the center there is a massive field of solar panels, which are able to capitalize on the blazing heat that hits the region for the bulk of the year. Thus, even though the center isn't located in an optimally cool area where it can reap the benefits of natural cool air, Facebook has still made it so that the natural climate of Oregon helps keep the Prineville center up and running without overly taxing the environment. Inside the center, other resources are at play to help keep operations functioning sustainably. In the computer room's massive hallways, there are mechanisms in play that capture heat generated by the computers and remove it. These heat corridors help stave off the kind of overheating-based outage that could lead to both great costs and an adverse environmental impact.

Facebook is a website that prides itself on expert archiving. For users, a favorite pastime involves scrolling through a friends' timeline to see what they looked like 10 years ago when they first launched their profile. But Facebook knows that data on the site from, say, four years ago will not be nearly as ""hot"" as material that's being generated now. Therefore, the company stores users' more dated photos in cold storage servers. These kinds of servers present a great means of storage for data that is not being accessed constantly - say, for example, photos from yesteryear. In this way, Facebook expertly prioritizes the storage of its users' information, and in doing this it also enables its centers to run in a more sustainable manner.

A ZDNet article reviewed some of the pointers other companies can glean from Facebook when they're trying to jump-start their own centers. Here are a few of those suggestions:
Take growth into account. A data center shouldn't be built to handle only the amount of information an enterprise is generating now. Of all the enterprise assets out there, a data center perhaps most requires an eye to the future. With Facebook, it's this focus on the future that has spurred the development of cold servers which currently handle users' old photos. What cold storage amounts to, ZDNet points out, is ""attic space,"" and for a company whose base of 400 billion photos is expanding by several hundred million each day, it needs all the attic it can get.

Find ways to conserve water usage. As we move toward the future, the availability of water in the world certainly won't be growing. Facebook presents a great example of a company that is able to run top-of-the-line data centers while using very little water. The way it's able to do this is through a system where water is continually cleansed and reused, generating a sustainable system that leads to huge water savings.

Treat employees well - after all, they're the lifeblood of the operation. Facebook knows how vital its data center employees are, and it goes to great lengths to provide them with the best workspace possible. Far from being a whitewashed and bare place to work, the company ensures its data center employees have enjoyable workplaces. At the company's Forest City, North Carolina, center, for instance, workers have access to Frisbee golf, as well as a series of electric carts that make traversing the large plot of land a breeze. These kinds of morale-boosting activit'‹ies lead to better work from the employees, and therefore can help produce a better overall data center.

Check back for Part 2 of this article to learn about other businesses that employee first-rate data center strategies."

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