The computer farms that handle Internet data -- which represent up to 1.3 percent of electricity consumption globally -- are increasingly under duress as Facebook's energy use grows particularly fast. The company now processes more than 250 million photo uploads each day, Technology Review reports. With all this activity, one can only wonder how much energy is needed to keep Facebook running.
The computers, facilities, personnel and electricity that are needed to keep your profile up-to-date and available everywhere is the company's single largest expense. (Well, that and founder Mark Zuckerberg's hooded sweatshirts. We kid!) As such, Facebook sought to design and build more energy-efficient server farms. Its first data center opened last April in Prineville, Ore. The facility, included in the company's "Open Compute Project," used 38 percent less energy to do the same work as other Facebook data centers, it says.
The goal of the project: to build the most efficient computing infrastructure at the lowest possible cost. Facebook's strategy: take its "hacker roots" and have company engineers custom design their own software, servers and data centers from the ground up.
That's not to say that the data center still doesn't impact the local electrical grid -- it can still draw 28 megawatts of energy, the rough equivalent of the energy consumption of everything else in surrounding Crook County, which has a population of 26,000. (That electricity is generated from a coal factory; naturally, it did not take long before Greenpeace turned Facebook into the target of an aggressive "Unfriend Coal" campaign that garnered 181,000 "likes" on...its Facebook page.)
Facebook has since recruited Google's clean energy chief, Bill Weihl, and the company is nonetheless expanding its IT infrastructure with two more data centers: one in North Carolina and the other in Sweden, the latter which will be powered by hydroelectricity.
So how much energy does Facebook use in a day? The truth is, nobody really knows, Weihl told Technology Review. (Except for perhaps the private company's CFO.) The good news: once the company makes an initial public offering, expected this year, it will be forced to become significantly more transparent about the costs (and return) of its technical infrastructure.
"We're working on what we can disclose and how to do it," Weihl said to Technology Review. "This being Facebook, it'll be sort of an iterative, experimental process."
The other pressure point for the company besides the overall cost is how environmentally harmful the energy mix is that powers its datacenters. Coal, yes. Hydroelectricity, sure. But the truth is that Facebook is connected to the same grid as everyone else -- and while Facebook would like to be both cheaper and cleaner over time, it takes entire industries (and governments) moving in concert to change the fossil fuels-renewable ratio.
Can Facebook apply social pressure to change the game? Perhaps. All it will take is a few apps -- and a few "likes."
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com