Facebook Shares Server Design
By GEOFFREY A. FOWLER and SCOTT MORRISON
Facebook Inc. said it would share details for its new server systems and computer rooms with other companies, hoping to set off what it characterized as an open movement for hardware design.
Many tech companies, such as Google Inc., keep key details about their computing infrastructure confidential. But Facebook said it will publish technical specifications for a new data center it built from scratch in Prineville, Ore.—including details of the computers, power supplies, server racks, battery backup systems and building design.
Facebook's move, which it compared to the movement to spur innovation through open-source software, comes as power and energy consumption have emerged as key hurdles for many high-tech companies. Facebook, at an event at its Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters, said systems it developed for its new Prineville operation are 38% more energy-efficient and 24% more cost-effective than the machines the social-networking giant has been using.
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said he hoped the unusual technology-sharing program, which Facebook is calling the "Open Compute Project" would encourage industry-wide collaboration around best practices for data-center and server technology. "By sharing this, we will make it more efficient for this ecosystem to grow," he said.
By sharing its designs, Facebook said other companies would be able to focus on applications and developing for social websites.
Forrester Research analyst Rich Fichera said Facebook's move could help Facebook benefit from volume economics as other companies deploy similar systems and order more components and systems that match this design. "At the bottom of this, the motivation is to try to foster a commercial competitive marketplace for the technology that they need going forward," he said.
Facebook's move comes as technology titans like Google, Apple Inc. and Twitter Inc. are scrambling to build vast new data centers so they can provide computing resources, data-storage capacity and software services to companies and consumers over the Internet. "We think it's time to demystify the biggest capital expense of an online business—the infrastructure," said Jonathan Heiliger, Facebook's vice president of technical operations.
"Companies with extreme computing needs continue to seek innovative technology that extends the boundaries of what is possible today while challenging their partners to reach new lows in energy usage," said Greg Huff, H-P's chief technology officer for industry standard servers and software.
Dell's vice president for server platforms Forrest Norrod said his company was already shipping some systems to companies, including Facebook, that are based on the social network's new designs. "It means you get an open platform on which you can innovate," he said.
Facebook's move could put pressure on other Web giants to contribute, though many of those companies battle with Facebook over "openness" on a number of technical issues. "We're still familiarizing ourselves with the project, but in general we're supportive of initiatives that promote best practices and make it easier for businesses to implement energy-efficient designs," a Google spokeswoman said.