Facebook has finally confirmed it’s behind “Project Catapult,” the enormous data center under development in Altoona, Iowa.
Facebook will invest a minimum of $299.5 million in the project, which it said would create hundreds of construction jobs. Facebook confirmed that it had looked elsewhere before settling on the Altoona facility. The first phase of the project will result in a 476,000-square foot data center across 194 acres of land, enough to accommodate two more buildings of roughly the same size.
“In the coming years, as our service continues to grow and people share and connect in more ways, we need to make sure that our technical infrastructure also continues to scale,” Facebook wrote in a blog post. “Our goal is not just to deliver you a fast, reliable experience on Facebook every day—we also want to help make connectivity a universal opportunity. Our data centers are essential for making that happen.”
The question is, what’s Facebook’s next big market? It’s probably Asia, where Facebook doesn’t even own a data center; it’s assumed that most Asian customers (along with many European ones) are served via the company’s facility in Luleå, Sweden.
But Facebook is definitely well served within the United States, thanks to its facilities in Oregon and North Carolina, as well as two co-located data centers on the East and West Coasts. “We don’t have anything specific to announce,” a Facebook spokeswoman said, in response to an emailed question about whether or not those co-located data centers were still operational. “But generally speaking, we’ve always said that our plan is to transition from leased capacity to our own, highly efficient facilities.”
In the fourth quarter, Facebook reported that 298 million monthly users, or 28 percent of its 1.056 billion users, lived in Asia. That’s the geographic segment with the largest Facebook userbase, according to the company. (Social tracking firms such as Socialbakers also provide their own breakdown of the numbers—but they use their own tracking tools, so they don’t match up with Facebook’s own.)
One question is whether Facebook even needs to place a data center close to Asian users. “[I]t’s important to note that we often spread requests across our entire data center infrastructure—in fact, we currently serve traffic quickly and reliably all over the world from a data center infrastructure that’s located primarily in the U.S.,” the Facebook representative wrote in an email.
If Facebook does choose to place a data center in Asia, some sites seem obvious. Google already plans data centers in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and Facebook could certainly do the same.
Right now, it appears that Facebook feels it can serve its worldwide audience using its current infrastructure. But for how long?