Arctic-Circle Facebook data center to save environment, doom Santa
Ambient cooling saves energy, hydroelectric is cleaner than coal, reindeer is healtier than beef
Social networking site Facebook, which has become more famous for invasions of privacy than interpersonal connections, is planning a new north of the Arctic Circle so it can blow hot air toward the environmentally sensitive Santa's Workshop rather than in warmer places where it would have to rely on coal for heat, power-sucking air conditioners for cooling and a workforce more expensive than elves.
Facebook and Greenpeace announced today the two would end a two-year conflict over the use of clean power in data centers by cooperating on design of a new Facebook data center built to rely as much as possible on renewable energy.
The data center – the third Facebook has built for itself rather than rented from hosting companies –will be based in the Northern Swedish town of Lulea on the tip of the Baltic Sea, just 62 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
Putting the data center so far North will make it much easier to use usually frigid outside air to cool the computing equipment rather than running power-using, heat-generating air conditioners to do the same thing.
The air temperature in Lulea averages 36 degrees Fahrenheit and hasn't risen above 86 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 24 hours at a time since 1961.
Though no environmental studies have been done to verify their concerns, Santa activists worry that excess data-center heat vented into the outside air will drift north, endangering the architecture and stability of the North Pole ice on which Santa's Workshop is built.
Elves, which live only at the North Pole, are uncomfortable in warm weather, which could prove a major health hazard for the legion of walking, talking snowpeople who handle much of the landscaping and outside work for the Workshop, including Sam the Snowman, the annoying Claymation-y snowball with the bowler hat, umbrella and vest who sings on Christmas specials in the voice of 1960s-era the-kind-of-jazz-your-grandparents-liked song stylist Burl Ives.
Forget Santa, Arctic data centers are cool
The new, Santa-melting data center will be Europe's largest, but will be designed to use far less power than even European data centers, which are designed to be small and light to save petrol, which is sold by the eyedropper, and be maneuverable in the narrow streets and alleyways of ancient European cities.
The decision that its next data center should be green follows a two-year campaign by environmental group Greenpeace, which recruited 700,000 supporters to a campaign it called Unfriend Facebook, whose goal was to convince Facebook employees that the company needed to be more environmentally responsible.
Though simply shutting down the site would reduce levels of inanity pollution by as much as 78 percent, it was the amount of power data centers – including Facebook's – get from coal-fired power plants that made Internet power use a high priority for Greenpeace.
"A lot of people assume the internet is clean," Casey Harrell, senior campaign specialist in Greenpeace's San Francisco office told The Guardian newspaper in March.
"They think: 'I'm not printing anything, I didn't even have go to the store, I ordered it online and got it delivered to my door.' They don't always realize how much of the internet is powered by dirty energy." Harrell said.
Greenpeace wants data centers to break the coal power habit
According to a Greenpeace report published in May, the servers, storage and networking equipment that make up the Internet already use enough electricity that, if the Internet were a country, it would rank No. 5 in the world for electricity consumption. And that's only if you don't include PCs, handheld devices or any other client hardware used to access the web.
At its current rate of growth the Internet will use 1,963 billion kilowatt hours per year – more than the combined power consumption of France, Germany, Canada and Brazil combined. (The full report is available here; PDF.)
Greenpeace targeted Facebook first because of its size: it currently generates 9 percent of all Internet data in the U.S. and its 500 million members give any campaign against it instant credibility.
The social-networking giant also gets approximately 53 percent of the energy it uses for its data centers in Prineville, Or., and Forest City, N.C. from coal-fired plants, making it a good negative example for dirty power use.
Facebook did try to minimize its carbon footprint, adding solar panels to the Oregon facility to reduce its reliance on coal power and designing both the Oregon and North Carolina centers with energy efficient computing and cooling systems.
It had to go further to satisfy the horde Greenpeace gathered, however, even though Facebook jumped on the green train itself to portray what could have been an ongoing conflict as a cooperative negotiation.
Why Sweden again?
Since it needed another data center overseas to support membership in Europe and Asia, Facebook promised to satisfy Greenpeace and European green activists by building the whole facility using power-conserving technologies and power it primarily from utilities that rely on renewable energy sources – primarily from a series of hydroelectric dams on the Lulea river.
The data center itself will take up 968,000 square feet and use $72 million in energy per year, about the equivalent of 16,000 U.S. homes, compared to the 30,000 to 35,000 U.S. homes it would take to equal power use by normal data centers that size, according to GreenBiz.com
It picked Santa's back yard for its location because pulling in ambient air to cool server farms is much more practical among the ice floes than it is in steamy North Carolina or the humid American Northwest.
Data from IT-specific environmental activist group The Green Grid show almost half of U.S. data centers use some form of ambient cooling, which helps save 20 percent of overall energy costs and 7 percent from cooling systems themselves.
Despite its success with Facebook and the Arctic Circle Data Center of Santa's Doom, Greenpeace is continuing to push Facebook to commit that all its future data centers will also rely on renewable energy and to expand its Open Compute Project energy-efficient data-center design collaboration project.
Greenpeace is also pushing Facebook to use its clout as a big power buyer to push the coal-reliant utilities that serve its other data centers to go green as well.
Attempts to locate phone contact information to request comment from Santa's Workshop were unsuccessful. Attempts to contact the Workshop via email and postal mail were rerouted to local post offices. Local Santa agents found in department stores and at Salvation Army donation sites – though dressed in full Santa uniform – claimed to have no way to contact Santa representatives directly for comment.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.