Major tech company's data center uses more electricity than ever before
Monday, Jul 22nd 2013

Many businesses often look to what is happening in regard to data center monitoring and energy usage at major firms like Google and Apple to determine their own strategies, which is in part why the latest news from Facebook is noteworthy. Although the social media giant has some of the most environmentally-friendly data center management policies, new statistics released by the company show that it is using more electricity than ever to power its servers.

At Facebook's main data center in Prineville, Ore., the amount of energy used went from 71 million kilowatt-hours in 2011 to 153 million kWh last year. In total, all of Facebook's data centers in 2012 required 678 million kWh, up from 509 million kWh the previous year.

This increase is not a surprise, according to The Oregonian contributor Mike Rogoway. Not only was 2011 the first year the facility in Prineville was open, but Facebook's audience grew considerably between the two years. As such, the company needed to use more electricity than is consumed by all residents of Crook County, Ore., to help keep the site running optimally at all times.

"The surge in Facebook's energy usage was expected, as the company has been massively scaling up its data center infrastructure to keep pace with growth in its audience, which now includes more than 1 billion monthly users," Data Center Knowledge contributor Rich Miller wrote.

Rogoway noted that the release of this kind of data is unique in the data center industry, as it illustrates just how much electricity companies need to keep their Web-based resources up and running constantly. According to Data Center Knowledge, organizations such as Greenpeace have previously complained about the electricity usage at data centers operated by Facebook and others.

How green is Facebook now?
To counter these claims, the company has become more transparent both about the amount of electricity utilized and where it is coming from. For instance, Facebook noted that 19 percent of its electricity in 2012 came from renewable sources, and that its carbon footprint remain virtually unchanged even though its audience grew. In addition, the social media firm reported its power usage effectiveness score as 1.09, which is close to the best possible score of 1. In comparison, most data centers have a PUE of 2 or more.

To help contextualize its energy usage figures, Facebook reported that the average site user in 2011 and 2012 had about the same net carbon footprint as a latte or a few glasses of wine.

"Tracking and sharing this kind of data – whether annually or in real-time – continues to be an important part of how we hold ourselves accountable for the efficiency of our operations and our environmental impact, and how we uncover opportunities to improve both," the company said.

The core concern presented by Facebook in its report - how to lower electricity usage when demand increases - is one that all data centers must address. Companies that lack Facebook's monetary resource can tackle this problem with data center monitoring equipment. For example, a temperature sensor can let facilities managers not rely so heavily on air conditioning units to keep server rooms at the ideal temperature, thus lowering the amount of electricity needed to run the data center.