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Facebook and Greenpeace Coal Debate Heats Up

Posted by Sheila Shayon on April 20, 2011 01:00 PM

Facebook’s recent revelation of the specs underlying its closely watched new datacenter, as seen in the above video, is stirring the IT infrastructure pot and caused a heated debate among digital denizens and proponents of renewable energy — particularly Greenpeace.

First, some background. The published specs, part of Facebook’s Open Compute Project, include:

Streamlined power consumption bypassing traditional datacenter models and linking servers to custom power supplies. This method, also used by Google, gives rise to Facebook’s claim of 38% energy savings.

Fuss-free cooling. According to Jay Park, Facebook's design director at the Prineville, Oregon-based data, it "utilizes a direct evaporative cooling concept where no chillers or compressors are needed for cooling the IT load." 

No-frills server farms. "Vanity-free" server housing eliminating "unnecessary" parts and trimming pounds from its server racks.  

These conservation efforts earned Facebook a power usage effectiveness ratio of 1.07 in a model authored by The Green Grid, where the ideal grade is 1.0.

Some observers, such as Tom Simonite in the MIT Technology Review, laud Facebook’s efforts at datacenter efficiency: "the company is breaking a long-established unwritten rule for Web companies: don't share the secrets of your server-stuffed data warehouses." 

But others see more narcissistic powers at work and accuse Facebook of "'openwashing' themselves (like BP is greenwashing itself)... So what this really is all about is: Facebook advertising this is our new mechanical form factor, now we want all of you to adopt it, so we can buy cheaper hardware. Go home, facebook. Come back if you have something _really_ open," as commented “free software" developer and consultant Harald Welte.

The crux of the issue and criticism (spearheaded by Greenpeace) of the Open Compute Project is that PacifiCorp, the utility that powers the Prineville datacenter, relies on coal.

Greenpeace has been targeting Facebook with an "unfriend coal" campaign and recently garnered a Guinness Book World Record for most comments in 24 hours on a Facebook page. The eco-activists, dramatically, even took their message to the skies:

Facebook’s counter request is that Greenpeace “friend” its Open Compute Project, as articulated in a letter from Facebook's VP Technical Operations, Jonathan Heiliger to Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, as Treehugger excerpted: "Just as Facebook believes in using the power and reach of our platform to help effect environmental change, I hope Greenpeace can use the power of your membership to encourage participation in and adoption of the Open Compute Project."

Greenpeace responded that “Green IT should not be a choice between energy efficiency and energy emissions: we need both — energy efficient, renewable energy powered data centers. In order to combat our climate crisis, we need to move toward cleaner sources of energy.”

Facebook and Greenpeace may be an unlikely pair, but each holds undeniable sway in the increasing debate between IT companies and environmentalists as the energy revolution heats up.

Below: Heiliger introduces Facebook's Open Compute Project —

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