Facebook's new data center will run entirely on renewable energy

Facebook will build its fifth data center in Fort Worth, Texas.

A portable diagnostic station in Facebook's Forest City, NC data center.

The second-most visited website in the world is building another data center, this time in Fort Worth, Texas, Facebook announced this week. This will be Facebook’s fifth data center, following ones in Oregon, North Carolina, Iowa, and Sweden.

Facebook says that, like its Iowa one, this new data center will run on 100 percent renewable energy, powered by wind turbines only 90 miles away. To further cut the data center’s emissions, the company’s stacks of servers will be cooled using natural air, mitigating the need for air conditioning units.

Additionally, Facebook will be taking its designs open source for the Fort Worth Data Center through its Open Compute Project.

Many see this as a bright move for the company that’s trying to reduce its carbon footprint since it built its first data center in 2010. The company has repeatedly redesigned its servers to optimize efficiency and flexibility.

And there’s a reason for this move: data centers draw huge amounts of power – most of which, experts say, is wasted. Each row and stack of servers represents information, processes, and foundational data that the company needs intact. With computers running 24/7, and fans that make sure the hyper-clocking servers don’t melt everything, the electric bill can run up a doozy. According to The New York Times, data centers worldwide run an estimated 30 billion watts, or the output of 30 nuclear power plants, each year.

And without changing the way data centers are run, that power usage is only expected to increase. With more information hosted in “the cloud,” the search for servers is only racking up the price.

When designing its data center in Altoona, Iowa, last year, Facebook decided to think about its hardware and software separately, leading to a modular, scalable system that improved operating efficiency. By distributing computing power, Facebook found that its data centers didn’t heat up as quickly, and could be more easily cooled without expending much resources. By implementing natural air cooling techniques, the remaining electricity is due to the multitude of computers running and to backup cooling systems.

And so there has been a firm level of intrigue over the company's new Texas data center and its 17,000-acre wind farm.

While some praise its environmental focus, it is important to ask why a fifth data center is being built. The company has been expanding rapidly through other ventures, and Facebook’s post on its new data center highlights that much of its purpose has to do with the company’s Internet.org venture.

With the company planning to add another billion users, it’s likely that this data center won’t be the company’s last.

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