Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Facebook shares its green IT technology, but is it enough?

Facebook Facebook has launched what it calls the Open Compute Project, which aims to improve the energy efficiency of data centres.

The idea is to share the technology used in its first dedicated data centre in Prineville, Oregon, which delivered a 38% increase in energy efficiency at 24% lower cost. The technology enabled the data centre to achieve an initial Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.07, compared with 1.5 for existing facilities, which itself fall into the EPA’s "best practice" category.

The specifications and best practices of the new data centre will now be available to companies across the industry. Facebook is publishing the specifications and mechanical designs for Open Compute Project hardware, including motherboards, power supply, server chassis, and server and battery cabinets. In addition, the company is making available its data centre electrical and mechanical construction specifications.

Facebook is releasing these designs to encourage industry-wide collaboration around best practices for data centre and server technology. AMD, Dell, HP and Intel are among the companies that co-developed technology and Dell's Data Centre Solutions business will design and build servers based on the Open Compute Project specification.

As well as the energy and cost savings, the designs also save material. The servers are free of all non-essential parts, which saves more than six pounds of materials per server. In a typical data centre this would save more than 120 tons of material from being manufactured, transported, and, eventually, discarded.

It all sounds like good news, but, as we reported back in February, Greenpeace thinks the company should go further by using more renewable energy. In the run up to Earth Day (April 22nd) the environmental NGO wants Facebook to ‘unfriend’ coal. Specifically:

  • Increase Facebook’s use of clean energy;

  • Develop a plan to mitigate the company’s climate footprint and to become coal free by 2021;

  • Educate Facebook users about how the company powers its services;

  • Advocate for clean energy at a local, national and international level.


I agree with Greenpeace. Facebook should be commended for the Open Compute Project, but this is a company with a pre-eminent position in the industry. In the UK alone the company has 30 million users, three quarters of all internet accounts. That’s an incredible position of influence and with it comes responsibility.

Facebook needs to do more if it wants to be seen as truly supporting green IT.  Simply passing on its technology insights is a relatively small action given the scale of the problem. As Greenpeace points out, Facebook has a real opportunity to lead by example in its environmental actions and can show that businesses can flourish using clean energy.

© The Green IT Review

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