Data Centre Developments Will Focus On The Building

Facebook has got data centres as efficient as it can. Now it’s working on the building process, says Peter Judge

Two weeks ago, my suggestion that we build data centres from straw was not entirely serious. But the coverage last week of Facebook’s new project in Sweden proves one thing: it is time we thought carefully about the buildings that house our tech.

Facebook has embarked on a second data centre at Lulea. The first one is only just open, and Facebook says it has a PUE of 1.05. That’s pretty much as good as it gets, efficiency-wise. So why has Facebook decided to change everything, and build a completely different data centre for Lulea 2?

facebook lulea 2 cold aisle constructionFlatpack building style

The new project uses the Rapid Deployment Data Center (RDDC) design, which Facebook created in a hackathon. It’s been called a “flatpack” data centre, in which sections are shipped flat, eliminating bulk and empty space. It also radically simplifies Facebook’s previous data centre structure, doing away with a whole upper storey dedicated to cooling – the so-called “penthouse”.

In other words, this isn’t about making the data centre more efficient to run. The kit inside, including evaporative cooling systems, is probably pretty much the same as the last one.

There may be improvements in that area but the focus is on how it’s built. As well as how much material is used in the project, it’s also about how quickly the project can be constructed.

A press release last week added Emerson Network Power’s name to the project, saying that the power distribution company has been involved in developing and delivering the project which Facebook kicked off.

facebook data centre luleaNew chassis style

I’ve yet to hear the exact division of labour in the design, but it’s clear that Emerson is shipping a lot of modules (more than 250 of them) to make the centre, and it must have tailored its components to meet the Facebook RDDC design,  It’s also not clear whether Emerson gets to sell the same components to other data centre owners, although that would certainly be in the spirit of Facebook’s other data centre innovations through the Open Compute initiative.

Modular “chassis” based data centre building means that, given a suitable building, data centres can be put up quickly anywhere (although, as widely discussed, the makers will prefer a data centre to be where there is plenty of cheap green power).

Given that, saving energy and materials in the production and building process is the next important part of greening the data centre.

In this phase of rapid build-out, more efficient building processes will actually be even more important. It seems Facebook has to build data centre so quickly that the next one is on the way before the last one is fully operational. That makes the building process very important.

So, straw bales may have to wait, but data centre building and construction is due to change.

A version of this article appeared on Green Data Center News

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