It’s live: Facebook’s first Altoona data center is now officially online

ALTOONA, IOWA—Driving east on I-80 toward Des Moines, its hard to miss the looming construction project that is Facebook's Altoona, Iowa data center. With a 202 acre campus—that's 42 acres bigger than Disneyland and 22 bigger than neighboring Adventureland—just one of its two buildings would be twice as tall as 801 Grand if you stood

Facebook Altoona Data Center

Facebook Altoona Data Center

The first building of Facebook’s Altoona data center officially opened and started servicing traffic last week. 

ALTOONA, IOWA—Driving east on I-80 toward Des Moines, it’s hard to miss the looming construction project that is Facebook’s Altoona, Iowa, data center. With a 202-acre campus—42 acres bigger than Disneyland and 22 bigger than neighboring Adventureland—just one of its two buildings would be twice as tall as 801 Grand if you stood it on its end.

And as of last week, the campus’ first building joins Facebook’s facilities in Prineville, Oregon; Forest City, North Carolina; and Lulea, Sweden, as a fully operational data center. But what does that actually mean?

Now that the data center is officially online and servicing live traffic, Facebook’s vice president of site operations Tom Furlong says the facility is simply “where your likes live.” Log on to Facebook and your server traffic will now pass through the building’s 25,000 miles of fiber—that’s enough to wrap around the circumference of the earth and still have some left over.

During a ribbon cutting—or, rather, light-up “Like” button pushing—on Friday, Facebook executives were joined by Senator Chuck Grassley, Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa Economic Development director Debi Durham and Altoona Mayor Skip Conkling to declare the first building on the data center’s campus officially open and operational.

While the data center will help support the more than 6 billion Likes and more than 12 billion messages of Facebook users each day, probably more impressive is Facebook’s commitment to renewable energy to operate its data centers. Which makes sense, considering what Furlong calls one of Facebook’s main goals: efficiency.

The Altoona facility uses 100 percent outside air, heating and cooling air filtered through an extensive system to keep its servers at the optimum temperature. The building also is powered by 100 percent renewable wind energy through the Wellsburg wind project and a partnership Facebook established with MidAmerican Energy. The wind project brought 140 megawatts of new wind energy to the grid in Iowa—enough energy to power more than 42,000 homes—and the ability for Facebook to take advantage of Iowa’s wind energy tax credit program.

What also differentiates Facebook’s presence in central Iowa is its involvement with the surrounding community.

“On the community side, we want to embrace the community,” Furlong told SPN. “Now that we’re working through the construction it’ll be a little easier for us to be engaged. We’re a social company so there’s a lot of social aspects of us being connected.”

Last week the company donated 30 laptops to Altoona Kids Klub, a before- and after-school care program serving about 400 students in Southeast Polk District Elementary Schools, and Altoona’s mayor mentioned Facebook has already been involved with the city’s Shop with a Cop Fundraiser. In October, Facebook announced a Community Action Grant program in Altoona targeted toward “nonprofits that meet critical community needs and that promote connection, sharing, economic development and improve the overall vitality of Altoona and surrounding communities,” according to its site.

While it remains to be seen if and how the local tech community will be impacted by Facebook’s data centers, Furlong said he’s already been impressed with the level of Iowa talent they’ve been able to hire for the facility’s 75 jobs.

“We’ve really been able to staff the team with some sharp people,” he said. “We have a very high hiring bar at Facebook and we have a lot of smart people who work for us. We’ve found it pretty straightforward to get the people we need in Iowa, and that’s been terrific.”

Especially in light of its Open Compute Project, Furlong says that Facebook strives to be open and address the lack of transparency when it comes to industry practices like data centers.

“It was more open than I ever imagined we’d make it,” he said of Facebook’s first data center. “But it goes with the open-source mentality of the company.”

Facebook first announced plans for the data center in April 2013, a process Durham joked Friday took “less time to build than negotiate.” A year later, Facebook announced plans for Altoona 2, the second building on Facebook’s campus that is still under construction. Altoona 2 is expected to be completed in 2015.

Take a peek inside Facebook’s Altoona data center:

Facebook Altoona Data Center

Rows of servers line much of Facebook’s 476,000-square-foot data center. 

Facebook Altoona Data Center

The open office portion of Facebook’s data center is where many of its 75 employees work.

Facebook Altoona Data Center

The data center also includes a game room and lounge where employees can kick back and relax.

Facebook Altoona Data Center

One of the multiple chambers that help warm or cool outside air before it is filtered into the data center.


Credits: Images from Facebook’s Altoona Data Center


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