Facebook Data Center Looks to the Future With Continued Innovation


Recent Information Brings Property Tax Issue to Forefront

by RENEE PATRICK CBN Feature Writer

Facebook’s Prineville data center has been operational since April of this year, with the cutting edge technological systems out-performing initial expectations. Pioneering the way for data centers around the globe, Facebook built their facility to include unique energy efficient measures and created the Open Compute Program to share the technology and design with the world.

In October, Facebook began construction on a second building in what is now known as the Prineville Facebook Campus. The expanding data center is expected to keep pace with needs of the popular social media website.

Energy Efficiency
The energy efficiency measures for Facebook’s first data center were designed with the high desert environment in mind.

The evaporative cooling system, the first of it’s kind, is used to cool the data center computers in place of large air conditioners or mechanical chillers. Paired with the airside economizer which cools the facility by bringing in colder desert air from outside, the results have been better than expected during the first summer in operation.

Facebook Data Center Manager Ken Patchett commented, “The air cooling from the desert is fundamental to what we are doing. Essentially we are drawing air over water, and energy efficiency results have been better than expected…We were looking for a design criteria of a 1.15 PUE and have been below that and hope to keep going lower.”

The PUE measurement refers to energy use in data centers that is determined by dividing the amount of power entering a data center by the power used to run the computers. The Prineville Data Center has an average of 1.07 PUE rating with typical data centers coming in at 1.8 PUE.

Other energy saving systems in place will re-use server heat in the colder months to heat office space, and ensure an uninterruptible power supply in case of a power outages, effectively bridging an energy gap before backup generators are up to speed.

The data center was designed with LEED Gold Certification in mind, and is expecting the official rating to come within the month.

Questions have been raised as to the ability of the Bonneville Power Administration and Pacific Power’s ability to supply the desired energy requirements as the facility continues to grow. Patchett addressed this saying, “We think we are ok with power usage; we would like to have more, and we are working closely with Pacific Power and BPA. The bigger concern is [the availability of energy]for the other large companies that are looking to come into the area.”

Open Compute Project
In developing the Prineville data center, Facebook announced the creation of their Open Compute Project. Similar to open-source development, a collaborative effort to study, change, improve and distribute computer programs and technology in public, the Open Compute Project aims to share and improve upon information so that innovations can be broadly adopted in data centers and similar facilities around the world.

Facebook’s design team began developing the data center’s systems, servers and software from scratch, and has shared that information on their website, www.opencompute.org. By sharing design specifications, they hope to bring down costs industry wide. Creating an open platform for innovation, systems can constantly be critiqued and improved for all, and ultimately spark collaborative dialogue.

According to a press release from Facebook, “We are publishing specifications and mechanical designs for the hardware used in our data center, including motherboards, power supply, server chassis, server rack, and battery cabinets. In addition, we’re sharing our data center electrical and mechanical construction specifications. This technology enabled the Prineville data center to achieve an initial power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.07, compared with an average of 1.5 for our existing facilities.”

Patchett commented, “We now have a dedicated full time team to manage the Open Compute Project around the world. We have been fortunate that the industry gets it and wants to participate, and we have had some of the biggest companies in the country come here and work with our engineers to see how it can work for them. The response to the Open Compute Project has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Facebook Prineville Phase Two
In October, the Prineville data center broke ground on their second building, entering phase two in the facility’s ability to respond to increasing data demands from Facebook. “The learnings we have from building one will be incorporated into building two,” said Patchett.

Facebook’s strength lies in their willingness to innovate and change as systems are utilized and refined in their continued growth. “A lot of change is in nuance things you may not see,” said Patchett. “We may modify the way we leverage our water for cooling and some of the equipment, but generally changes will be related to air flow though the building in trying to make it more efficient.”

The second building is slated to be finished by fall of 2012. The completed building means room for capacity growth for Facebook. “We have a team of smart individuals trying to look two to three years into the future asking what capacity will exist,” said Patchett. “We build according to that need. When [the second building]is completed, we will be able to handle the flow and traffic volume. When new services come out, it requires capacity. It equates to physical need.”

The data center has the property and infrastructure to continue their growth if the need arises. A third phase of building is possible, and as Patchett stated, “We are still a young and up and coming business, we want to be fiscally responsible, we have looked to the future and make sure we have the structure available to grow in a responsible manner.”

Economic Impact
The economic impact of the data center has been noticeable in Crook County. Currently Facebook has 55 full time employees at the facility; the addition of the second building is likely to raise that number to 65.
The erection of the data center’s second building will continue the influx of construction dollars to the area. Patchett commented, “Construction is the lifeblood in the area, without it we don’t have that foundational [economic]layer.. for Facebook in Prineville, having continued construction year round is a fantastic thing. All these people are here and doing business locally. There is value in long term construction projects.”

Well over half of the construction jobs are being sourced locally. “We have to bring in the companies that can do the job – with talent, resources and ability. [If we look to companies from out of town,] we will ask that the leadership come and hire from the union workers in the area. The tradesmen in this area have a great opportunity to get on,” Patchett said.

Facebook has faced some critical feedback on the accessibility of jobs for local residents at the data center. Patchett addressed those concerns stating, “I continually read accounts or comments from folks that believe that the people here don’t have the qualifications or skill sets to work here. I want to be very clear. Of the 55 people [working at the data center], 27 are all from right here.” Patchett went on to explain that many of the other employees who have relocated to the Prineville area already had ties to the area in one form or another. Most have moved with families and positively contribute to the communities in which they live.

“My goal was to bring [a core of ]4-5 people together who knew data center space, so when we brought in the local workforce, we would have the knowledge to educate them… It is frustrating to read comments that there is no way people can get a job here…we are proud of our hiring practices, especially in Prineville, Crook County and Central Oregon.” Since breaking ground, over 1,400 people have worked on the site.

Facebook is very appreciative of the support they have gotten from the community since coming to Prineville. “From the contractors to the people we are working with, everyone is pitching together to find out how to make this happen,” said Patchett. “In a year we were able to go from dirt field to a large data center building…From our perspective, our legislators and EDCO, the Economic Development for Central Oregon, are doing a fantastic job working with all of us.”

Tax Incentives
Many factors came into play when Facebook decided to build their first data center outside of Prineville. One of those factors was the promise of a property tax break for 15 years with the creation of a long-term rural enterprise zone in Crook County.

Recent information has brought the property tax issue to light as the Oregon Department of Revenue considers the Facebook data center a utility and subject to possible taxes on its “intangible assets.”
A statement released by Facebook stated, “We remain very concerned that the department has asserted an ability to make future and retroactive assessments, including reassessing the current year, on our data facilities based on their ‘intangible,’ worldwide value to the company. These assessments would undercut the enterprise zone agreement we made with Crook County that resulted in the valuable economic investments we made in the area.”

A resolution to the issue is yet to be determined, but could have far reaching implications as other companies look to base their businesses in the area due to similar tax incentives.

Roger Lee, executive director for EDCO, commented on the importance of tax breaks for attracting business to Central Oregon, “When companies look to site these data centers across the country… paying millions in property taxes impacts the bottom line in a pretty big way. That is where property tax incentives are important. Oregon power rates are low but not the lowest: Idaho and Washington have lower power rates, sometimes dramatically lower. That is something that is mitigated in Oregon with the property tax [incentive]. All the infrastructure needs to be in place: water, power, etc., with the tax climate being pretty critical as well. All these things play in together and when you are investing hundreds and millions of dollars, all of this is very important to the project. If anything is out of balance, the reason for being in a location can be in jeopardy… It [tax incentive]does have a positive economic impact.”

A decision has not been made on the state imposing further taxes on Facebook, the governor’s office and the Department of Revenue are currently reviewing the issue.


About Author

Renee is the Art Director for Cascade Publications, and Editor for Cascade A&E Magazine.

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