Facebook Building Even Bigger Data Center Campuses

Feb. 20, 2017
As it approaches 2 billion users, Facebook is hitting a new phase of growth, which includes building even larger data centers, and more data centers on each cloud campus.

PRINEVILLE, Ore. – When Facebook unveiled its first company-built data center on the high plains of Central Oregon in 2011, it was a first step into the larger world of hyperscale cloud campuses. A little more than five years later, the company’s infrastructure has spread far and wide, housing millions of servers across the globe.

As it approaches 2 billion users, Facebook is hitting a new phase of growth. The company just announced its eighth data center location in Odense, Denmark, giving the company five campuses in the United States and three in Europe. Each campus can support at least three data center buildings, each more than 1,000 feet long.

That growth is clearly visible in Oregon, where Facebook is working to complete construction on the third and largest data center building at its Prineville campus. The first data center in Prineville was 330,000 square feet, while the second building was slightly larger. The newest structure spans 450,000 square feet, about  35 percent larger than the original building.

The third Prineville building is “about 100 feet longer than the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln,” said Ken Patchett, Facebook’s Director of Data Center Operations (West), as he surveyed work on the $250 million construction project during a tour last summer.

More Buildings, Data Halls

Once the new structure is complete, Facebook will have effectively run out of real estate. “We’re out of space here in Prineville,” said Patchett. “If we want to expand, we would need to get more land.”

That’s why, in addition to building in new places, Facebook is super-sizing its campuses. The buildings on its Altoona, Iowa campus are all larger than the biggest structure in Prineville. The company’s newest campus in Fort Worth, Texas will have room for five massive data center buildings, instead of three.

Inside one of Facebook’s huge data center campuses.

There are hints that the company may be thinking even bigger with its future campuses. Facebook has been identified as the company behind a project in Nebraska that has submitted plans to build four 610,000 square foot data centers. That suggests about 2.4 million square feet of space on one campus, more than twice the size of the 1.1 million square foot Prineville campus.

That growth can also be seen in Facebook’s capital spending, most of which is focused on building data centers and filling them with servers. Facebook said this week that it expects to spend $7.5 billion on capital expenses in 2017, up from $4.5 billion last year.

Video Alters the Storage Math

What’s driving this huge jump in infrastructure spending? Facebook’s continuing growth is part of the story. But so is the evolution of its business, which is increasingly focused on video.

“I see video as a megatrend on the same order as mobile,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a Feb. 1 earnings call. “That’s why we’re going to keep putting video first across our family of apps and making it easier for people to capture and share video in new ways.”

“We’re seeing consumer video exploding on our platform, and that really creates the opportunity for video ads in the feed,” added Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.

The emphasis on video shifts the math on file storage and data center requirements, as HD video files are substantially larger than photos. Facebook has been scaling up its infrastructure to handle massive growth in user photo uploads, including custom cold storage facilities and the use of BluRay disks to save energy on long-term storage. Video storage can be an even larger and more expensive challenge. Google, which operates YouTube as well as a cloud platform, spends more than $10 billion a year on data center infrastructure.

Slightly further out on the horizon is virtual reality (VR). Facebook’s Oculus VR technology plays a key role in Zuckerberg’s vision for the future of Facebook and social media.

Inside Facebook’s Blur-Ray Cold Storage Data Center

This has infrastructure implications. VR and 360-degree video applications require a LOT of data, and delivering these experiences across the Internet presents a major challenge. Virtual reality content could be 5 to 20 times the size of today’s full HD video.

All that data will have to move across the network, and in some cases be cached locally to assure low latency.

User Growth Drives Site Selection

That’s why Facebook is building bigger cloud campuses, and building them in new places. Facebook’s expansion program is driven by the shifting geography of its user demand, according to Dan Madrigal, director of real estate acquisitions for Facebook.

“We have to anticipate years in advance where our platforms will grow,” said Madrigal. “That’s a really hard thing to solve for.”

Rows of servers inside a a Facebook data center in North Carolina. (Photo: Rich Miller)

Here’s a look at Facebook’s data center campuses around the world:

  • Prineville, Oregon: Facebook began work on its first site in Prineville in 2010. In addition to the three huge data centers, the Prineville campus is where Facebook debuted its cold storage data center, a web-scale implementation of tiered storage that shifts older media in a lower-cost environment. Prineville also houses Facebook’s Mobile Device Lab, which it uses to test-drive revisions to its applications across up to 2,000 different types of smartphones.
  • Rutherford County, N.C.: The company’s 160-acre cloud campus in Forest City houses two major data centers, with a third in the construction phase, as well as three smaller cold data storage facilities. Forest City is located in an isothermal belt along the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge mountains, which provides a constant temperature. “It creates calm, so we don’t get a lot of dramatic swings in weather, and we get a prevailing wind,” said site manager Keven McCammon.
  • Altoona, Iowa: The Altoona data center features a 476,000 SF initial facility, with additional data centers sized at 468,000 SF and 496,000 SF. In 2016 the company added a 100,000 SF cold storage facility. Facebook has contracted for about 140 megawatts of power in a long-term power purchase agreement with a nearby Wellsburg, Iowa wind farm.
  • Lulea, Sweden: This data center campus marked the first expansion of Facebook’s infrastructure beyond the United States. For this project, Facebook was able to reduce the number of backup generators by 70 percent, as the extraordinary reliability of the regional power grid serving the town of Lulea allows the company to use fewer generators than in its U.S. facilities. The site is backed by locally generated hydro-electric energy and taps the chilly Nordic air to cool the tens of thousands of servers.
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    Clonee, Ireland: In this western suburb of Dublin, Facebook has begun construction on its first two buildings. The Clonee design is distinctive, with the two data center buildings connected by a central building that will house the admin staff, presumably providing additional square footage for data halls in the main buildings. Between them, the structures will span 621,000 square feet. Brookfield Renewable Ireland will supply the Clonee data center with renewable energy, primarily from wind power.

  • Fort Worth, Texas: This project will be the largest Facebook campus yet, consisting of five buildings with up to 2.5 million square feet of data center space.  The original three-building site plan was expanded late last year, when Facebook said it would add two more data centers on a 39-acre property the company had acquired. The site has a power purchase agreement which will fund 200MW of new wind power for the Texas grid.
  • Las Lunas, New Mexico: Announced in Sept. 2016 after a protracted site selection battle between sites in Nevada and Utah, the Las Lunas data center is now under construction. The $250 million first phase is projected to come online in late 2018. The project features a new design wrinkle: it will be cooled using indirect evaporative cooling systems that emphasize efficiency, while protecting servers from the frequent dust storms that occur in New Mexico. The data center will be powered entirely by solar and wind energy Facebook plans to procure from PNM Resources.
  • Odense, Denmark: Last month Facebook announced its newest international site in Denmark. “Our Odense facility will be one of the most advanced, energy-efficient data centers in the world,” the company said. “It will feature the latest in our Open Compute Project hardware designs that result in world-class levels of energy efficiency. It will be cooled using outdoor air and indirect evaporative cooling systems that emphasize water and energy efficiency—and like our five previous data centers, our newest facility here in Odense will be powered by 100% clean and renewable energy.”
  • Where will Facebook build next? There are clues emerging that it may be Sarpey, Nebraska, where local officials have been negotiating with a large Internet company seeking to build a data center project on a 146-acre property. Some sleuthing by DataCenterDynamics found that the LLC pursuing the project is registered at the same address as Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Ca.

    The site is about 160 miles from Facebook’s Altoona campus, which would reinforce a trend toward huge cloud campuses in the center of the country. Google’s largest data center campus is in Council Bluffs, Iowa, while Microsoft has three data center campuses clustered around West Des Mointes, Iowa. Amazon Web Services is building three data center campuses in Ohio.

    After that? Facebook has no data centers in South America, Asia or Africa, leaving many new frontiers where infrastructure may soon be needed to support global user growth.

    About the Author

    Rich Miller

    I write about the places where the Internet lives, telling the story of data centers and the people who build them. I founded Data Center Knowledge, the data center industry's leading news site. Now I'm exploring the future of cloud computing at Data Center Frontier.

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