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Facebook to share energy-efficiency technology developed for data centers [Updated]

April 7, 2011 | 11:26 am

Facebook said it planned to increase the energy efficiency of its data centers around the globe with the launch of the Open Compute Project, an initiative to share the technology it developed for its data center in rural Oregon.

The popular social-networking site said the technology had delivered a 38% increase in energy efficiency while lowering costs 24%.

Facebook made the announcement at its Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters Wednesday.

Prinevilledatacenter "We have been working on this for at least a year, if not more,"  Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said.

The load on data centers has spiked as Web companies process more data in real time, he said.

Running energy-efficient data centers has become increasingly important for Internet companies. They are developing innovative technologies to save money and energy and to impress on the public the efforts they are making to minimize the harm these energy-hogging technologies cause to the environment.

But technology companies mostly keep the details of these technologies under wraps. Forrester Research analyst Richard Fichera said Facebook was reversing that trend by disclosing a "wealth of information" about the design of its data center in Oregon.

In a blog post, he said Facebook had created "one of the most efficient large data centers in the world."

Jonathan Heiliger, vice president of Facebook’s technical operations, said technology companies needed to "stop treating data centers like 'Fight Club.' " 

Prinevilledatacenter2 Facebook is banking that releasing the information so that other Web companies can use it and continue to innovate on it will lead to an ecosystem of equipment suppliers and ultimately lower energy use -- and costs -- for Facebook.

Greenpeace has been a longtime critic of Facebook's energy use. Greenpeace climate campaigner Casey Harrell commended Facebook for working to increase the energy efficiency of its business and data centers, which it says Facebook has neglected for years.

"But as the global warming footprint of the IT industry, and Facebook, specifically, continues to grow significantly, a focus on energy efficiency alone will only slow the speeding train of unsustainable emissions growth. Efficiency is simply not enough," Harrell said in a written statement. "If Facebook wants to be a truly green company, it needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The way to do that is [to] decouple its growth from its emissions footprint by using clean, renewable energy to power its business instead of dirty coal and dangerous nuclear power."

Facebook's efforts to cut its energy use began two years ago before Greenpeace began targeting Facebook. It has singled out Facebook which is just one of a handful of Internet companies that are such heavy energy users. Greenpeace has challenged Facebook to commit to phase out its use of coal by April 22, which is Earth Day.

[Updated 12:22 pm: In a statement, a Facebook spokesman said: "We sent information on the Open Compute Project to Greenpeace earlier today and we've offered to answer their questions. We hope Greenpeace 'friends' the Open Compute Project and we encourage others to do the same."]

For the record, 12:48 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly called the project the Open Computer Project.

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-- Jessica Guynn

Photos: Facebook's Prineville, Ore., data center. Credit: Facebook

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