Facebook expands Arctic fleet

The Arctic Circle may seem like an odd space for an advanced data hub, but freezing year-round temperatures and huge hydroelectric generating capacity have made the town of Luleå, in northern Sweden the perfect home for Facebook’s latest line-up of high-tech data centres. 

When Facebook’s Luleå data centre began operation in 2013 it was celebrated as the most energy efficient computing facility ever built. Now, three years on, the company is finalising the construction of a second super-efficient data hub in the region.

“When we look at potential sites for our data centres, we look for places where we can build reliable, sustainable, energy-efficient and cost-effective facilities,” says Niall McEntegart, head of the Facebook data centre. “Luleå ticked all of those boxes, plus many more.”

The Arctic climate, with winter averages of -20 degrees C, allows facilities to cut dependence on air conditioning, reducing costs and carbon emissions. In Facebook’s case, freezing air from outside is pumped into the building, acting as a natural coolant, while walls of fans keep temperatures constant by expelling hot air generated by the servers.

The data centre is also run on 100 per cent renewable hydroelectric power from the nearby Lule River, and sits at the juncture of two incredibly reliable hydro grids, which has reduced backup generator capacity by 70 percent.

The initial success of the Luleå data centre led to Facebook’s quick decision to expand the site, and construction of a second centre began in March 2014.

Luleå 2, as it is known, is the first facility to employ the company’s new Rapid Deployment Data Center (RDDC) design, which involves the use of pre-made modular sections that are assembled on-site, much like the flat-packed furniture offered by Swedish firm Ikea. This innovative new method of construction significantly reduces the duration and local impact of building work.

“We expect this new approach to data centre design will enable us to construct and deploy new capacity twice as fast as our previous approach,” says Facebook data centre design engineer Marco Magarelli. “We also believe it will prove to be much more site-agnostic and will greatly reduce the amount of material used in the construction.”

The second centre is expected to be fully up and running by later this year. In the meantime, the first couple of data halls have already started to serve traffic.

It is estimated that, by 2020, the Luleå site will have generated business worth SEK 9 billion (£7.4bn) for Sweden as well as benefiting a total of 4,500 full-time employees and creating nearly 2,200 jobs, two-thirds of them locally in Luleå.

Read more about the Luleå Data centre in this month’s E&T magazine.  

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