When you upload your photos to Facebook, you probably don’t give much thought to the racks and racks of server equipment required to store all that information. But Facebook’s engineers are constantly looking for ways to improve the capacity and efficiency of their technology.
“Matt Corddry, Facebook’s director of hardware engineering, should be grateful to Tesla. Not because he drives one (he doesn’t), but because the popularity of its electric cars could help Facebook take a little more cost out of running its data centers,” writes James Niccolai in a Nov. 14 article for IT World.
Facebook’s most recent move to upgrade its servers uses lithium-ion batteries — the same kind that are used to power electric vehicles — as the backup power source (“UPS,” or uninterruptable power source, in industry terms) for its server racks. The batteries, which are being tested now, will be rolled out widely within a year if all goes well, Corddry says.
Finding the Best UPS
Server racks are used to contain the computer equipment that stores data. A UPS is integrated so that if the electric grid to which the racks are connected loses power, no data is damaged in the minutes before a diesel generator takes over.
Previously, Facebook used lead-acid batteries (similar to the kind in non-electric cars) for this purpose. But they require costly maintenance and expensive recharging equipment. They’re also large, in this case requiring a seven-foot cabinet for batteries protecting only six racks of servers.
But the new high-density lithium-ion batteries, which have been in development for about a year, can slide right into the racks holding all the servers. Each battery covers only a half-rack, which means that even in the case of battery pack failure, the problem will be confined to a relatively small grouping of equipment.
Lithium-ion has been cost prohibitive until now, according to Corddry. But its wide use in electric vehicles has revolutionized the market surrounding it and made it more cost effective.
“The crossover moment for us was really electric cars, especially when Tesla and the [Nissan] Leaf and those guys took off,” Corddry says. “The inflection point has just happened in the industry where lithium-ion is cheaper to deploy than lead-acid for a data center UPS.”
Facebook has declined to quantify the potential cost savings in exact figures. But especially since Facebook shares many of its tech advancements via the Open Compute Project, it’s likely other data centers will soon be following suit.
“Advancements in this type of technology is always exciting. Using lithium-ion batteries to improve server rack efficiency is always a great investment for any company — even Facebook,” says Marcos Garza, Principal Owner of Global1Resources.