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Facebook's Newest Datacenter Relies On Arctic Cooling 106

Nerval's Lobster writes "One year and seven months after beginning construction, Facebook has brought its first datacenter on foreign soil online. That soil is in Lulea, town of 75,000 people on northern Sweden's east coast, just miles south of the boundary separating the Arctic Circle from the somewhat-less-frigid land below it. Lulea (also nicknamed The Node Pole for the number of datacenters in the area) is in the coldest area of Sweden and shares the same latitude as Fairbanks, Alaska, according to a local booster site. The constant, biting wind may have stunted the growth of Lulea's tourism industry, but it has proven a big factor in luring big IT facilities into the area. Datacenters in Lulea are just as difficult to power and cool as any other concentrated mass of IT equipment, but their owners can slash the cost of cooling all those servers and storage units simply by opening a window: the temperature in Lulea hasn't stayed at or above 86 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours since 1961, and the average temperature is a bracing 29.6 Fahrenheit. Air cooling might prove a partial substitute for powered environmental control, but Facebook's datacenter still needed 120megawatts of steady power to keep the social servers humming. Sweden has among the lowest electricity costs in Europe, and the Lulea area reportedly has among the lowest power costs in Sweden. Low electricity prices are at least partly due to the area's proximity to the powerful Lulea River and the line of hydroelectric dams that draw power from it."
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Facebook's Newest Datacenter Relies On Arctic Cooling

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  • by Stonent1 ( 594886 ) <stonent@stonent ... t c l a r> on Thursday June 13, 2013 @10:15PM (#44003385) Journal
    With all those datacenters the town won't be that cold for long.
    • With all those datacenters the town won't be that cold for long.

      From TFS: "The constant, biting wind may have stunted the growth of Lulea's tourism industry..."

      If they just build the datacenter a little ways outside town, I imagine the people there wouldn't notice a significant change in temperature.

    • Especially with all the hot air they depend on for traffic, revenue and stock price inflation.
    • they could sell the heat to domestic premises.
    • by emj ( 15659 ) on Friday June 14, 2013 @06:32AM (#44005395) Journal

      Luleå is the main port for Swedish steel, and there is quite a lot of it. So the powerusage of that data center is puny in comparision.

  • Thanks to global warming they won't be cool for much longer.
    • In 2100 they'll probably still be a lot cooler than Kansas.

      • Kansas would be a great place for wind farms. I have found that I can't open the umbrella on my lawn furniture for fear it may blow away. Unfortunately the city ordinance will not allow me to have a wind turbine. I think they are afraid I'll not have to pay an electric bill.

    • by niftydude ( 1745144 ) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @11:08PM (#44003677)

      Thanks to global warming they won't be cool for much longer.

      Actually, now the climate change denialists can say that shrinking of the polar icecaps isn't due to CO2, it is just facebook servers.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Quick, someone make a graph that shows the growth of facebook closely correlating to the rise in temperatures.

      • if they just plonked their datacenter on antarctic ice it would eventually melt into the ice and would create its own ice chest when the water above it refreezed... it would be even cooler if they made the datacenter as a huge pyramid that reconfigured itself every 10 minutes

  • If there were just a way to extract energy from the ambient environment in some sort of reasonably efficient fashion we could build these datacenters in warmer areas, deserts even. All that 120-degree desert in africa would suddenly become valuable real-estate.

    • by Mal-2 ( 675116 ) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @10:29PM (#44003473) Homepage Journal

      Heat needs somewhere to flow to, in order to make it valuable as a power source. Simply being very hot isn't sufficient. That said, the amount of light falling on the region IS directly usable as a power source, and with very little population or wildlife to disturb, this may prove quite an attractive place to gather solar power. Since transmission of power is one of its major cost factors, the data centers may well follow.

      • Stirling engines on the cooling?
      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        this? you mean lulea? you got any idea how dark it is during winter and even if the daylight is longer in the summer it goes through longer in the atmosphere losing some of the energy.

        in africa you could get heat difference though quite easily. just dig a hole.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          The positive side is you can just hang those solar panels vertically pointed south and get good output :)
          That's how they use solar power is used at Dome A deep in Antarctica, but with the panels pointed north of course.
        • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

          I was referring to the poster who proposed using the heat of the Sahara as a power source. Plenty of sunlight there.

      • by jandrese ( 485 )
        That would be an interesting sci-fi device. The heat engine where the cold side is somehow anchored to absolute zero (or maybe just above it).
    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      If there were just a way to extract energy from the ambient environment

      There isn't. You can extract energy only by dumping the energy/heat of the ambient environment to a lower temperature or lower potential environment.

      Having said that, most weather is due to a transfer of heat from the ambient environment (which in turn has been heated by considerable solar radiation) to space. And we can in turn harvest some of that energy transfer via wind or hydroelectric power.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A planet wide system of tubes and turbines can be used to extract energy of expanding gas... However, you'll be harvesting your planet's angular momentum. I don't recommend it, especially not while your crust and mantle are full of radioactive elements still.

  • by NoKaOi ( 1415755 ) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @10:29PM (#44003475)

    I know a lot of ./ is gonna come at this from a "those greedy scum bags" point of view, but this makes perfect sense from an overall humanity point of view, not just a greedy corporation point of view. Put power hungry stuff in a place where the power doesn't spew CO2 into the atmosphere thanks to hydroelectric. Someplace where they can use much less power by taking advantage of the outside cold. This is how it should be.

    • What about the heat transfer from the servers to the atmosphere? I'm no environmental physics expert, but with the ground so cold wouldn't that cause a sharp increase in the temperature at higher altitudes and upset the airflow with hotter air moving rapidly towards the equator? Wouldn't this create disruptive weather patterns .. ie. low pressure hitting high pressure causing violent storms?

      Perhaps it's not enough impact, but the question remains .. "How many servers does it take to change a weather patt
      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        shutting fb down would help the environment only if people didn't do something else with their time that used less energy.

        anyway, the datacenter is unlikely to make less heat than a single small paper mill... or steel mill...which is the type of industrial activity these datacenters are replacing in the nordic region.

      • i think it largely depends on how many datacenters it takes to change a light bulb

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I know a lot of ./ is gonna...

      It's /. you insensitive clod!

    • Screw the CO2.... Norway really needs to jack up power costs since it's a bitch that Sweden who barely counts as a power producer pays less for electricity than we do. Somehow, Norway has obscene power costs and we produce insane amounts of it.
      • by spyfrog ( 552673 )

        I don't count your production of 123 TWh of 2010 as "insane". Sweden produced 143 TWh the same year.
        And as you know, our two electric grids are joined and the power is sold on a common market.

    • Very well, but at least dedicate the effort to a worthy cause like Protein Folding, SETI processing or even a Library-of-Congress sized recipe book - the idiocracy present on facebook can fuck off and die for all I care.

    • What they are doing is using the free cold to cut their costs. But of course that heating will effect the weather in that area, which will affect the ecosystem which will start to spread its effect. There may be widespread and deeply felt consequences down the road, but not for Facebook. Dumping heat is the same sort of externalized cost as say dumping waste chemicals in a stream. The company does not pay, it lets those downstream pay. You could argue that the effect is small but as we know the butterfly e

  • by bentwonk2 ( 2793825 ) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @10:34PM (#44003507)
    Average Temp = -1.3 Celsius (29.6 Fahrenheit) Highest = 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) For those who believe the freezing and boiling points of water also make good reference points.
    • For those who believe the freezing and boiling points of water also make good reference points.

      Well, I'm glad you put the temperature in F as well, since I find the body temperature of a cow very much more intuitive.

      • Fahrenheit is based on a brine solution of water, ice, and ammonium chloride at 0. I'll assume your comment was based on some notion that a dairy cow's body temp is 100 degrees, which is also false.
    • I don't stick my hand into freezing or boiling water really any more than I have to, but I go outside every day.

      I'll cheerfully take my reference points being (broadly) the coldest/warmest people in temperate climes experience personally as far more useful than your particularly arbitrary references, thanks!

  • That isn't very cold (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 13, 2013 @10:44PM (#44003571)

    Thanks to wind and ocean currents all of Europe is warmer than many places in North America at the same latitude. Wisconsin gets colder than this place. I think it has more to do with abundant water and better year round temperature consistency.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Also, a data center in Wisconsin is going to get worse latency than a data center in Sweden for European Facebook users.

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )

      Wisconsin gets colder than this place.

      Wisconsin also gets warmer than this place, though.

  • The NSA will gets $4 billion budget for cyber operations. Say 10% is spent on data storage, and they pay way over the odds at $100/TB.
    $400,000,000 / 100 = 4,000,000 Terabytes = 4 Billion Gigabytes
    2 billion people online = 2 GB per person per year

    And that's why they have huge data centers and projects to build two more stretching into 2016.

    Or alternatively, since it's mostly Americans getting spied on, more like 13GB per US citizen per year, from just 10% of their budget.

    That's enough for phone meta data, me

  • Heat (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 13, 2013 @11:01PM (#44003653)

    Lulea is a major center of the iron mining industry of northern Sweden, which produces massive amounts of waste heat. This is used to great advantage by the town already, and when Facebook asked the town if they should just went into the atmosphere or if they wanted to use the waste heat, the town said "no, thank you." Source: I'm a native of Lulea.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cheesybagel ( 670288 )

      The datacenter is going to produce low grade heat. Not useful for much.

    • you should be more concerned about the datacenter chugging out endless clouds of stupid

    • by orzetto ( 545509 )

      Source: I'm a native of Lulea.

      If you are, why do you spell it wrong? Either Luleå, or Luleaa if you are on a non-Nordic keyboard.

      • Lule is also acceptable if trying to approximate how the name of the city is normally pronounced.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The US Constitution doesn't apply to datacenters not on US soil, right?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "A controversial Swedish internet surveillance law passed in 2008 allows the government there to intercept any internet traffic that passes Sweden's borders with no need for a court warrant. It's called the FRA law and the Swedes don't like it, and Google called it "unfit for a Western democracy". And the rest of Europe could start to get annoyed by it too when that internet traffic includes their Facebook data."

      That's why they

      • by spyfrog ( 552673 )

        As you say, FRA (Swedish NSA) is best buddies with NSA. I assume that everything FRA knows is immediately shared with NSA.

  • If FB works well that all that matters.
  • When I read the title, I totally thought they were ricing out the workstations with gaming heatsinks.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Something the article forgot to mention is that it's not just the cost of electricity but also the reliability, Luleå hasn't had a major power outage since 1979.

  • by Meneth ( 872868 ) on Friday June 14, 2013 @01:50AM (#44004315)

    Get your spelling right. It's "Luleå", not "Lulea".

    The first one is pronounced like "lu-leh-oh", the second would be "lu-leh-ah".

    • Also, if someone is posting an article with temperatures, always include Celcius (or perhaps Kelvin). Farenheit means little to most of us who don't live in the US.

      Sure, it only requires a quick conversion, but it's better that the writer does that once than to expect many readers to.

  • Been there. Close to the central square, there is a street that is quite steep. To prevent the unavoidable car crashes in winter, they simply heat the asphalt. I guess they could use datacenter heat right there.. Once you get out of the city center, it has beautiful nature..
  • So instead of raining in data centres [], it now snows in data centres.
  • Does this mean Facebook must apply the EU privacy policies to all users that may have data stored in the new datacentre?

  • Another good place to host the datacenter would have been iceland. Its winters are not as cold, but the summers are significantly colder. The average high in July is 14 C, compared with 20 in Lulea). It also has abundant, cheap geothermal energy, which makes it popular for aluminium production. To service one of the aluminium plants there, a 630 MW power station was built. Until then, the total power consumption of Iceland had been about 300 MW! According to this table [], the price of electricity in Iceland i

    • i would love to see a US government reaction to a proposal by Facebook to build a datacenter in Siberia... of course it wouldn't happen... maybe it would start another cold war, which would also be good for datacenters :)

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"