Scandinavian cool: Inside Facebook’s arctic data centre

by Alex MacDonald

With over 1.65 billion users, Facebook has to manage what most tech companies would regard as an overwhelming amount of data. The company isn’t shy about showing off the impressive facilities that house its servers, offering glimpses into its mammoth data centers at regular intervals. Thanks to Facebook’s founder and CEO we now have our first detailed look at the firm’s most unique location.

The Lulea data center is tucked deep within the forests of northern Sweden, just 70 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Mark Zuckerberg shared a series of annotated photos of the building, its interior, and its staff on his official Facebook page, which boasts over 81 million followers.

Facebook started work on the massive project in 2011, and the completed building as it now stands encompasses the size of six football fields. The local temperature — which can plummet to below 50 degrees on most days — actually works in the site’s favor. According to Zuckerberg, the outside air is pulled within with the help of large fans to help naturally cool” the thousands of warm servers dotted along the center’s massive hallways.

The location also provides a renewable energy source, courtesy of the hydro-electric plants that operate on nearby rivers in the picturesque region. The whole system is 10 percent more efficient and uses almost 40 percent less power than traditional data centers,” claims Zuckerberg.

The technology that is housed inside the facility is based on innovative, open-sourced designs from the Open Compute Project (a partnership that sees tech giants share computer infrastructures in order to accelerate their growth). This includes everything from the servers themselves to the building’s power distribution systems. The former are reduced to basics so they do not overheat and can be accessed and repaired quickly. A few years ago, it took an hour to repair a server hard drive. At Lulea, that’s down to two minutes,” writes Zuckerberg.

In terms of protecting its users’ privacy, Facebook ensures it crushes obsolete hard drives, assigning the critical task to a staff member. Life inside the daunting data center does have its perks. Aside from the stunning views, and state-of-the-art tech, employees are also provided with scooters to maneuver around the main data hall — again illustrating just how huge the Lulea facility is. Overall, 150 staff members work inside the building, but Zuckerberg describes the halls as frequently empty” due to the lack of maintenance the efficient servers require.

The images depict a facility that matches its sparse surroundings with its steely interiors. Combined with the lack of a human presence, the photos seem like they’re from some long-forgotten expressionist sci-fi film.

You probably don’t think about Lulea when you share with friends on Facebook, but it’s an example of the incredibly complex technology infrastructure that keeps the world connected,” writes Zuckerberg.

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