April 12, 2011, 9:38 PM —
Photo credit: REUTERS/Norbert von der Groeben
Facebook is a wonder of our age. With more than half a billion users, the fact it serves detailed and personalized pages to every user--within a second or two of them asking for it--is mind-blowing.
To achieve this feat, Facebook operates warehouses full of server computers, known as data centers. One of the biggest questions being asked recently, based on rumors, is whether Facebook has abandoned traditional x86 server computing that's been around since the 1970s for low-power mobile computing chips--the same used in cell phones and tablets.
The answer? No, they haven't. Facebook is still x86 on the server.
We know this because Facebook has decided to "open source" the designs for its data centers for any interested party to use. This is a rare move because data center configurations are usually bespoke and therefore offer a way for one company to get a competitive advantage over others.
Reducing power consumption within data centers is a nascent area and Facebook is leading the game in this area. Its various tricks include evaporative cooling systems that use water and air to get rid of heat, rather than traditional air conditioning; reuse of heat generated by the servers to keep neighboring offices cozy during winter; and a special uninterruptible power supply that will keep the data centre running during a power cut in a way that reduces power consumption by up to 12 percent.
Recently there's been a lot of discussion about servers using low-power chips to further the ecological drive. The technology is ready, just about: Sea-Micro has released a couple of servers based on Intel's Atom mobile chips, for example, while Calxeda recently got funding to produce ARM-based servers.