Facebook’s Open Compute Gets Discussion Going

When Facebook opened up its green data centre ideas, it also opened up a big discussion which could provide more benefits, says Peter Judge

Last week Facebook opened up its green data centre technology to other companies. It also started a discussion forum – and both initiatives seem like bearing fruit, though the discussion between Facebook and environmental group Greenpeace looks completely stalled.

In the Open Compute project, Facebook has open sourced the custom hardware that it uses in Prineville Oregon, its first dedicated data centre.

As well as cutting the energy used by opting for free cooling by the outside air, the social giant has put a lot of effort into customising the hardware it sources from partners. Now those details, including CAD files, have been published for others to use and modify.

Facebook’s green fans weigh in

Now, when we say published, we mean “made available online”, in a site that is linked closely to the Open Compute project’s Facebook page, where discussion has started flowing.

What that means is an impressive new forum for green data centre people to join. and they haven’t just been patting Facebook on the back, they’ve been taking its ideas and kicking them around.

So Facebook’s green ideas people decided to save 6lb of embedded energy in the servers, by eliminating the fascia and redundant plastic decoration. Facebook’s fans said let’s go further and eliminate some of the metal casing on the power-supply unit.

Facebook’s people are optimising their cooling so that big efficient fans in the data centre cooling system get used in preference to the little ones on the servers. Facebook’s fans say why not get rid of the server fans altogether?

“Since power is proportional to the cube of the shaft speed, and bigger fans move a lot more air at lower speed, there is the potential for quite significant power savings,” said Open Compute fan Phil Morris.

It’s a sprawling, freewheeling discussion, and Open Compute people like Amir Michael and Frank Frankovsky are clearly having a ball fielding the questions (in answer to the last one, if you do away with  server fans you run a big risk of hotspots, and expensive burnt out CPUs).

And perhaps the best bit about it is that these people are involved in munte technical dicussions which make an actual difference. “The investment we’ve made in the Open Compute Project has the potential to save many times the energy that Facebook’s own operations – and the operations of any company that adopts this technology – will ever use,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

The Greenpeace standoff

All of which makes the stalled discussions with Greenpeace even more sad. Greenpeace met with Facebook just before the Open Compute launch. We don’t know what they said to each other but it probably went like this.

Each company praised the other – Greenpace rates Facebook’s ability to connect people and raise awareness (though it regards most Facebook content as “gossip”). Facebook probably admired Greenpeace’s commitment to the cause.

Then Greenpeace said “You should be reducing the carbon intensity of your energy supply by using renewables,” and Facebook said “We are increasing the efficiency of our energy usage – and other people’s – through the Open Compute project.”

Two statements at cross purposes. End of meeting.

Or to sum up in the organisations’ public statements:

Facebook: “We encourage Greenpeace and its supporters to use the power of Facebook to spread the word about the Open Compute Project and encourage other companies to adopt this technology.”

Greenpeace: “A focus on energy efficiency alone will only slow the speeding train of unsustainable emissions growth.”