Prineville, Ore., pop. 10,000, is Facebook's new friend

Facebook looks to take advantage of climate that promises to help cut energy costs

Facebook Inc. has selected Prineville, Ore., as the home for its new data center. Among Prineville's attractions are good places for fishing and camping, as well as dry, cool air that's conducive to running large data center operations.

The rural community, with a population of about 10,000 located in the center of the state, depends largely on the production of forest-based products. Prineville was hit hard by the recession -- its unemployment rate hit 20% last year, said Steve Forrester, Prineville's city manager.

Facebook said it will hire 35 full-time employees to work at the 147,000-square-foot facility, which was announced Thursday. The project will also create some 200 construction jobs, plus ongoing jobs for contractors hired to maintain the facility.

Facebook had been leasing data center space on the East and West Coasts. The Prineville facility will be its first custom-built data center. Facebook isn't saying how many servers it will install there, but it's a safe bet that the fast-growing Palo Alto, Calif.-based company will need an enormous IT operation that incorporates energy-saving approaches.

Prineville's location should help in the energy-saving efforts.

The city is located on a plateau at an elevation of 2,860 feet, and it has a climate that is conducive to cooling. It's dry, with only 10 to 12 inches of rain a year, said Forrester, and there are large temperature swings. During the summer it may reach 90 degrees at midday but at night it may fall to 45 degrees. "That really lends a big factor into the cost of the operation," said Forrester.

The climate will allow Facebook to use its air-side economizer, a system that brings in outside air to cool systems. In Prineville, the economizer can be used during 60% to 70% of the year, said Jonathan Heiliger, vice president of technical operations at Facebook, in a blog post. Facebook also plans to reuse server heat for its offices and says it has a patent-pending UPS system that it claims can help reduce power consumption.

Facebook claims that the new data center will be among the most efficient in the world, with an exceptionally low power usage effectiveness (PUE) metric. PUE is the ratio of total facility power, including the cooling systems, UPS, lighting, to IT equipment power, the load associated with all IT equipment, including servers and storage.

A PUE rating of 2.0 means that for every watt of IT power, another watt is used by the facility. Facebook is claiming that it can get PUE ratio of 1.15. Cloud computing service providers have been nearing that number; Microsoft Corp., for instance, recently said a data center in Dublin, Ireland, had a PUE of 1.25.

An Oregon newspaper, the Bend Bulletin, reported that county records indicate that the facility will cost about $188 million. Work on the project is expected to be completed next year.

The Pacific Northwest is proving to be popular place for cloud computing providers to build data centers, because energy costs in the region are relatively low. Google Inc., for instance, has built a major facility in Dalles, Ore., near the Columbia River and its hydroelectric facilities.

More information about Facebook's Prineville project is available on the company's Prineville Data Center page.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, send e-mail to pthibodeau@computerworld.com or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed .

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