Mark Zuckerberg shows us inside Facebook’s Arctic data centre
Fri 30 Sep 2016
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has posted a series of very interesting images taken in and around Facebook’s chilliest data centre, located in the arctic circle in an area of Sweden that has come to be known among data centre developers as ‘the Node Pole’.
Zuckerberg’s post is a pictorial essay running from aerial exteriors to massive and impressive internal vistas, with an annotated look at some of the staff behind the centre’s running, and some of the ecological considerations that have gone into it.
The establishment of the Facebook data centre at Luleå was announced in 2011 and added significantly to the industry cachet around the Node Pole, which consists of the municipalities of Luleå, Piteå and Boden.
In the first picture, presumably drone-facilitated, Zuckerberg shows us the building exterior, noting the location’s remote aspect and its situation between ‘dense forests and icy rivers’:
If Zuckerberg needed any additional geek credentials, he addresses the matter in his comments on the next shot, of the massive filtration fans which cool the facility, noting ‘I love this shot because it looks like a sci-fi movie. These enormous fans draw in the outside air to cool the tens of thousands of servers in the data hall. In the winter, when temperatures plunge to -30 degrees the situation is reversed, and the heat from the servers warm the massive buildings.’
It’s axiomatic of great business ideas that they often begin on a napkin, and the post reiterates this by showing the very napkin that engineer Jay Park used to sketch out the way power should be directed from the region’s local utility grid into the Luleå servers.
Despite massive civic contention to become the site of a new data centre, the rewards in terms of local employment are often pretty thin, and the value of the proposition usually lies in whatever balance the municipality can strike between requisite tax breaks and financial concessions from the interested party. Therefore Zuckerberg’s next foreboding pic, which looks like a production shot from an Alien movie, reflects current thought that the data centre is becoming a low-human proposition:
Zuckerberg comments on this:
‘About 150 people work here, but the data halls are frequently empty. Because of the simplified design, we need only one technician for every 25,000 servers.’
The sci-fi theme is maintained in the next shot, with the Facebook CEO commenting that the main data hall is so vast that engineers must negotiate it on scooters – and presumably Zuckerberg’s inner geek considers the reflection of similar intra-departmental vehicles needed in the vast technological expanses of classic SF outings such as Colossus: The Forbin Project, Fantastic Voyage, The Andromeda Strain – and practically any 007 movie:
Sadly the vehicles are not depicted, though:
Next Zuckerberg gives us some detail on the server racks, observing: ‘The equipment is reduced to its basics so it runs cooler. It can also be easily accessed and repaired quickly. A few years ago, it took an hour to repair a server hard drive. At Luleå, that’s down to two minutes.’
Next, we are shown a pile of discarded and mutilated hard drives, the destruction of which is assigned to a particular individual in the interests of safety:
The post also contains many photos of workers at the Luleå plant.
In the above, of data centre technician Emilie De Clercq, we can note with interest that Facebook Apple Mac laptops appear to have been elaborately co-branded: