Facebook Saves Datacenter Costs with Frigid Arctic Wind

Inside Facebook’s new facility.

One year and seven months after beginning construction, Facebook has brought its first datacenter on foreign soil online.

That soil is in Lulea, town of 75,000 people on northern Sweden’s east coast, just miles south of the boundary separating the Arctic Circle from the somewhat-less-frigid land below it.

Lulea (also nicknamed The Node Pole for the number of datacenters in the area) is in the coldest area of Sweden and shares the same latitude as Fairbanks, Alaska, according to a local booster site.

The constant, biting wind may have stunted the growth of Lulea’s tourism industry, but it has proven a big factor in luring big IT facilities into the area. Datacenters in Lulea are just as difficult to power and cool as any other concentrated mass of IT equipment, but their owners can slash the cost of cooling all those servers and storage units simply by opening a window: the temperature in Lulea hasn’t stayed at or above 86 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours since 1961 (PDF), and the average temperature is a bracing 29.6 Fahrenheit.

Air cooling might prove a partial substitute for powered environmental control, but Facebook’s datacenter still needed 120megawatts of steady power to keep the social servers humming. Sweden has among the lowest electricity costs in Europe, and the Lulea area reportedly has among the lowest power costs in Sweden. Low electricity prices are at least partly due to the area’s proximity to the powerful Lulea River and the line of hydroelectric dams that draw power from it.

“We are proud to say that this is likely to be one of the most efficient and sustainable data centers in the world,” according to the blog item/Facebook page update about the center going live. “All the equipment inside is powered by locally generated hydro-electric energy. Not only is it 100% renewable, but the supply is also so reliable that we have been able to reduce the number of backup generators required at the site by more than 70 percent.”

The datacenter will eventually fill three large buildings, each with 300,000 sq./ft. of floor space. The first opened yesterday; the last is due to come online in 2014. While there is plenty of wind to cool the hardware, the datacenter’s heating systems are built to pull surplus heat from the machine rooms to heat the rest of the building. Nearly all the custom hardware is based on Facebook’s own Open Compute Project designs.

The new facility averages 1.07 on the power usage efficiency (PUE) scale. The Lulea datacenter may be among Facebook’s most efficient, but isn’t the company’s biggest by a long shot: that honor belongs to the $1.5 billion facility under construction in Altoona, Iowa.


Image: Facebook