Can Facebook change the face of data centres?

March 20th, 2014 Backbone Connect, Blog, Data Centre, Future

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future of data centres





Will Facebook’s new ‘IKEA style data centre’ change the face of data centre construction? And what else does the future hold for data facilities?

A new kind of data centre
Facebook’s recent announcement of a new data centre build in Sweden is pretty big news. But not just because it’s a new data centre – new facilities are being built all around the world all the time.

And it’s not just because of its impressive power consumption and sustainability credentials. The really exciting part of the announcement is the news that Facebook are using their new Rapid Deployment Data Centre (RDDC) concept to construct the site.

Situated next to Facebook’s existing facility, the Luleå 2 data centre will be built using pre-fabricated modular sections which can be assembled on site. This means a quicker build time, and fewer waste products. And the company believe this new approach could “become a model for the next generation of data centers”, meaning facilities could be constructed more quickly and cheaply, and in more diverse locations.

Modular data centres
Prefabricated modular data centres are not exactly new. Back in 2007 Sun Microsystems unveiled Project Blackbox. It was essentially a data centre to go – a 20-foot shipping container packed with integrated cooling, networking, and power distribution, which could be hooked up to external water sources.

Of course it didn’t have the power and capacity of a full data centre. But it was a quick, easy means of getting a fully stocked data facility, which could be installed in more diverse locations, and without the extensive construction costs.

Since then modular data centres have continued to grow and develop, to the point where DCs can now be installed pretty much anywhere with a power source. They’ve been housed at the bottom of mines, or even in the office car park – plugged in and up and running in hours.

However, these centres differ from Facebook’s method. They’re designed to be an all in one solution and they come as a pre-built unit, ready to use. With Facebook’s concept, the data centre is a more permanent fixture, built to differing specifications depending on your space and requirements.

Better locations for better centres
Facebook’s choice of housing their centre in a colder climate country is another trend we’re also seeing. And with real benefits. Located in arctic conditions, the two Luleå facilities don’t need to rely on expensive, power hungry air conditioning systems to keep the servers cool. Instead, they pump in the naturally cold air from outside of the building, cutting down on power consumption and costs. So the majority of power consumed goes into running the computer equipment, and helps them to achieve a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of approximately 1.05.

By housing your centre in a more remote location, also makes it easier to use renewable, sustainable energy sources. Power for the two Luleå centres will be drawn from renewable hydroelectric energy from the nearby Lule River. Similarly, the Green Mountain Data Centre in Norway uses hydro power and also cools its equipment using water from the nearby fjord.

And it’s not just the colder climates that are proving attractive to the data centre industry. Other emerging markets, like India, can be a good source of cheaper skilled labour. The CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) qualification is cheaper to attain in such countries, meaning a surplus of qualified staff are on hand.

With Facebook’s RDDC method of construction, it will be possible to build new, facilities in harder to reach locations for less cost. Mixed with the potentially cheaper overheads after completion of the build, emerging markets could be a big draw for future development projects.

What does the future hold?
As technologies develop, and the way we use data centres changes, there will continue to be changes in how and where centres are built. With advancements in cloud computing, and improving broadband and 4G connections, we no longer need to be close to our data centres. So companies can look further afield to more remote, affordable locations.

As a large consumer of energy, the data centre industry is also under pressure to seek out new forms of sustainable power, better methods of improving PUE and ways to cut carbon emissions. Housing facilities in colder climates, like Sweden, where they can take advantage of natural cooling methods should help in this goal. And quicker, less invasive construction methods, like the ones offered by Facebook’s RDDC method, will not only help to reduce costs, but will mean that centres can be built in more remote locations, where they can take advantage of renewable energy sources.

Facebook’s new approach is certainly a step in the right direction, and will lay good foundations for future research and improved development.

What do you think the future of data centres will look like? Leave a comment and let us know.

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