Facebook is so mind-bogglingly vast—350 million users, 70% of them actively using applications on the service—that it's almost impossible to comprehend what it does with all that data. Which makes it surprising that it's taken this long for Facebook to open a purpose-built and self-owned data center. What's more, this move could clear a path for Facebook to design and build its own servers.
Facebook has previously been the primary tenant in data centers that are distributed globally and connected up in an extremely horizontal architecture with no particular regard for the geographic location of its users, according to VP of Technical Operations Jonathan Heiliger. That's why sometimes your account can be inaccessible, while your desk-mate's account works perfectly. It's a way of making the system extremely resilient, and it means that the data centers can be located pretty much anywhere in the world.
Facebook's "done a fairly good job at keeping up with growth, not just trucking in hardware when we needed it," says Heiliger. "But actually getting to the point where we're building hardware and specifying what we want to match what we're trying to do." But Heiliger's team doesn't just think in terms of raw network power and resilience—it also pays close attention to energy management and tries to use "the most efficient gear possible," even while it was just a tenant.
Which is where Oregon enters the frame, and today's news that Facebook will be moving into a purpose-built multi-million dollar data center facility in Prineville. Oregon was able to offer Facebook "a unique combination of suitable climate for environmental cooling, renewable power resources" as well as the availability of a suitable site, the company's Director of Site Operation, Tom Furlong, noted in Governor Ted Kulongoski's press release on the matter. Apparently the facility will be designed to meet LEED gold standards, employing innovative cooling and power management to "make it one of the most energy efficient data centers in the United States."
Which is pretty impressive credentials for what many have dismissed as a "time wasting" social networking fad that's barely making any profit. It also means Facebook's joining the growing trend of highly eco-conscious data centers, which will be an important move as our increasingly online life generates more and more data.
Heiliger also hinted that there are more innovative moves like this on the way—along the lines of "designing and building our own servers." The evolution from building huge data centers to designing servers is not uncommon, Google did the same thing. One requirement for building such hardware is to have a verifiably secure facility to experiment with new server architecture, which this data center will clearly supply.
Additional reporting by Ellen McGirt.