The world of hyper scale web properties has been shrouded in secrecy, with major players like Google and Amazon releasing only tantalizing dribbles of information about their infrastructure architecture and facilities, on the presumption that this information represented critical competitive IP. In one bold gesture, Facebook, which has certainly catapulted itself into the ranks of top-tier sites, has reversed that trend by simultaneously disclosing a wealth of information about the design of its new data center in rural Oregon and contributing much of the IP involving racks, servers, and power architecture to an open forum in the hopes of generating an ecosystem of suppliers to provide future equipment to themselves and other growing web companies.
The Data Center
By approaching the design of the data center as an integrated combination of servers for known workloads and the facilities themselves, Facebook has broken some new ground in data center architecture with its facility.
At a high level, a traditional enterprise DC has a utility transformer that feeds power to a centralized UPS, and then power is subsequently distributed through multiple levels of PDUs to the equipment racks. This is a reliable and flexible architecture, and one that has proven its worth in generations of commercial data centers. Unfortunately, in exchange for this flexibility and protection, it extracts a penalty of 6% to 7% of power even before it reaches the IT equipment.
Everyone’s using the term “sustainability.” And, I’ll admit I’m a little jaded. But, given that it’s around to stay for a while, let’s take a look at the term. What are the primary objectives of “sustainability” initiatives? Are they “green” – with an eye toward protecting the environment by reducing the effects of climate change? Are they economic – cost cutting, increasing efficiency? “Sustain” seems static, maintain the current state. But some are thinking about “sustainability” as a means of generating growth. A few weeks ago, I started an interesting discussion about “operational sustainability” with Rich Lechner, IBM Vice President for Energy and Environment. (I say started because it actually continued this week, and will likely continue further.)
“Sustain to grow” may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s not. First let’s think about efficiency. What does it mean to be more efficient? Efficiency to me is the goal to “do more with less” – improving the ratio of output to input. So you cut and improve productivity ratios that way. But what if you’ve cut as much as you can, and you still want to do more, to improve those ratios? How can you grow within the limits of the resources you have? Sustain resources, increase productivity or capacity – in whatever terms or measures of capacity you use. This translates into the objective behind “operational sustainability.” How do you improve operations or processes in order to improve outcomes, within the limits of available resources?