In a move hinted at during a keynote at January’s Open Compute Summit, Facebook is building a data center using new techniques that make it akin to building a giant Ikea desk. The company will use these new “rapid deployment data center” techniques on its forthcoming second data center in Luleå, Sweden, and will share its insights via the Open Compute Project.
The first method Facebook is employing, called the “chassis approach,” is actually more similar to an automobile assembly line, where the chassis is built separately and then built upon from there. In Facebook’s case, the chassis is a 12-foot by 40-foot unit that will sit above rows of racks and house lighting, cable trays, and everything else that typically goes above a row of servers. Facebook data center engineer Marco Magarelli wrote in the blog post detailing the new methods that the company chose the chassis approach over standard containers “to avoid shipping the empty space that will eventually be occupied by the racks.”
The second approach, the “flat pack approach,” is the one inspired by the experience of building assembly-required furniture from someplace like Ikea or Target. Facebook will pre-package metal beams, wall and ceiling panels, and other parts of its support infrastructure into shipping crates that can be easily transported to data center via standard flatbed trailer and built in place. Once complete, they’ll carry the weight of cooling gear, the aforementioned chassis and everything else that sits directly above the servers.
Facebook hopes the new construction techniques will help it reduce the need for specialized design as it builds new data centers, while also cutting down on the resources required to build them. By making these aspects repeatable, local construction crews should be able to follow standard instructions and deliver the same results as their peers in other geographies.
Like all things Facebook and infrastructure — including its server, storage and networking system designs — the primary goal is to improve on Facebook’s operational and capital efficiency, but a secondary goal is to shape the way technology vendors build products so Facebook doesn’t have to do so much itself. If enough like-minded companies (the Open Compute Project already includes large IT buyers such as Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and Rackspace) begin adopting these design principles, the theory goes, vendors will see a profitable market and start adopting these principles themselves.