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HomeManufacturerInnovationHow Facebook's New Swedish Data Center Is Like Your Ikea Bed

How Facebook’s New Swedish Data Center Is Like Your Ikea Bed

If you’ve ever bought a bookshelf or a chest of drawers or a bunk bed from Ikea, you know the trick. Somehow, the Swedish furniture maker stuffs your new chest of drawers into a handful of relatively small, thin boxes you can easily push into the back of your car. It ships furniture in pieces, packing all these parts in the tightest and neatest of ways.

Now, as it erects a new computer data center in Ikea’s backyard, Facebook wants to do much the same thing. The social networking giant is building a second server farm in Lulea, Sweden, and in an effort to improve efficiency, it’s shipping equipment to the facility in tightly packed boxes not unlike those you find in an Ikea warehouse.

Much as Ikea can streamline its operation — and reduce prices — with its approach, Facebook can more rapidly and efficiently build its data centers. It plans on using this method across the ever expanding network of computing centers that underpin its massively popular web service. “We expect this new approach to data center design will enable us to construct and deploy new capacity twice as fast as our previous approach,” writes Facebook data center design engineer Marco Magarelli in a blog post, referring to this new Ikea-inspired shipping method and other new approaches in Lulea. “We also believe it will prove to be much more site-agnostic and will greatly reduce the amount of material used in the construction.”

>In an effort to improve efficiency, Facebook is shipping equipment to the facility in tightly packed boxes not unlike those you find in an Ikea warehouse

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The move is part of much wider effort from Facebook and various other web giants to more efficiently build and operate their data centers. When companies like Facebook and Google and Amazon reach a certain size, they need new ways of reducing costs both across their supply chain and inside the facilities themselves. This involves everything from building their own streamlined servers to finding ways of cooling these servers with outside air rather than expensive air conditioning units.

Facebook calls its new shipping method the “flat pack,” and like so many other things at the company, it grew out of a “hackathon” where engineers are encouraged to explore new ideas. Basically, the company has resigned the data center so that the walls can be shipped in pieces and readily assembled at the data center site. “As Ikea has done by packing all the components of a bookcase efficiently into one flat box,” the company writes, “we sought to develop a concept where the walls of a data center would be panelized and could fit into standard modules that would be easily transportable to a site.”

Separately, the company has designed new steel frames that can be pre-populated with various pieces of equipment at the factory and then slotted straight into the server rooms of the data center. These frames will sit above the servers, and provide electrical equipment and cooling. “This is similar in concept to basing the assembly of a car on a chassis: build the frame, and then attach components to it on an assembly line. In this model, cable trays, power busways, containment panels, and even lighting are pre-installed in a factory,” the company says. For years, companies like Google have taken this modular approach to data center construction, but Facebook has take a slightly different approach, essentially breaking the data center into even smaller modulars to make shipping easier. This too is akin to Ikea setup.

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Facebook dubs the whole setup the “Rapid Deployment Data Center,” and it expects this will become a new global standard for the company, allowing teams on different continents it to consistently and quickly set up the same high-quality, high-efficiency facilities. In other words, the manual for setting up a Facebook data center could soon look an awful lot like Ikea instructions: Simple, clever, multilingual, and surprisingly short.

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