How to Use Facebook's Open Sourced Data Center Design to Cut Costs

When Facebook open sourced its data center and server specifications it paved the way for enterprises of all sizes to save money by following the social network's radical hardware designs. The Open Compute Project Foundation has formalized Facebook's designs into specs, which are freely available. Here are tips for implementing them.

By Paul Rubens
Thu, November 01, 2012

CIO — Facebook's state of the art data center in Oregon uses 38 percent less power and costs 24 percent less to run that its older data centers. These figures are astounding, and they should certainly make any cost-conscious CIO sit up and take notice.

Facebook Data Center

What's the secret behind these savings? The company honored its hacker roots by custom-designing both the data center itself, and the servers (and management tools) inside it, from the ground up. It's akin to what Google has been doing for the past 10 years or so, but the good news is that--unlike Google--Facebook has not kept what it has achieved and how it has achieved it a secret at all.

Slideshow: 8 Data Center Lessons From Facebook

In fact the reverse is true: following the open-source software model, Facebook turned its server, server management, storage, rack, electrical, cooling and overall data center designs over to the Open Compute Project (OCP) Foundation, a not-for-profit with some heavyweight names on its board including Intel, Rackspace, Goldman Sachs and Arista Networks as well as Facebook. The OCP Foundation has formalized Facebook's designs into OCP specifications, and these specifications are freely available and anyone can contribute improvements to them.

Pick a Vendor, Any Vendor

One of the key ideas behind the development of the OCP specifications has been to avoid the "gratuitous differentiation" between different vendors' products, according to Frank Frankovsky, Facebook's vice president of hardware design and supply chain, and founding board member of the OCP. (The phrase "gratuitous differentiation appears to be a mantra used by everyone involved with the OCP, and Frankovsky is no exception.)

"Buying off-the-shelf servers, for example, is not economical as they include features that most organizations don't need," says Frankovsky. "That leads to extra costs and wasted electricity, and there are issues like it not being possible to manage HP boxes in the same way as Dell boxes: proprietary management wreaks havoc in environments like ours." Instead of being supplied by established hardware vendors like Dell or HP, OCP servers are often supplied directly by manufacturers in the Far East who are willing to supply them at wafer-thin margins.

The overall theme of the OCP then is to slim the server hardware down to what's actually needed to carry out the sort of large-scale computing that Facebook is involved in, and run it off a highly efficient electrical system with a minimum amount of power transformations. Further power and cost savings are achieved by housing it all in a data center with a high efficiency cooling system.

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