Web giants like Google and Amazon are notoriously secretive about what goes on inside of their data centers. Meanwhile, Facebook "open sourced" the designs for its Prineville data center and its custom-built servers. So just what does go on inside of those mysterious computing facilities? Wired decided to find out.
Facebook built its data center in Prineville because it’s on the high desert. Patchett calls it “the Tibet of North America.” The town sits on a plateau about 2,800 feet above sea level, in the “rain shadow” of the Cascade Mountains, so the air is both cool and dry. Rather than use power-hungry water chillers to cool its servers, Patchett and company can pull the outside air into the facility and condition it as needed. If the air is too cold for the servers, they can heat it up — using hot air that has already come off the servers themselves — and if the outside air is too hot, they can cool it down with evaporated water.
In the summer, Prineville temperatures may reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but then they drop back down to the 40s in the evenings. Eric Klann, Prineville’s city engineer, whose family goes back six generations in central Oregon, says Facebook treats its data center much like the locals treat their homes. “Us country hicks have been doing this a long time,” says Klann, with tongue in cheek. “You open up your windows at night and shut them during the day.”
The added twist is that Facebook can also cool the air during those hot summer days.
All this is done in the data center’s penthouse — a space the size of an aircraft carrier, split into seven separate rooms. One room filters the air. Another mixes in hot air pumped up from the server room below. A third cools the air with atomized water. And so on. With the spinning fans and the neverending rush of air, the penthouse is vaguely reminiscent of the room with the “fizzy lifting drinks” in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, where Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe float to the ceiling of Wonka’s funhouse. It’s an analogy Patchett is only too happy to encourage.
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