Server farm is almost done and will start expanding immediately

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By Celeste Smith, The Charlotte Observer

FOREST CITY — Your Facebook profile photo and status updates may soon live here.

Tom Furlong, left, Facebook's director of site operations, explains the server system to Gov. Bev Perdue, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and others. Photo by Jeff Willhelm, The Charlotte Observer

Presenting what the company describes as innovative, energy-efficient technology, officials with the social-networking behemoth on Tuesday showed off the first of what could eventually be a three-building data center in Rutherford County.

The first building, scheduled to go online in March, will be capable of serving half the 800 million users now on Facebook, company officials said. Construction begins immediately on a second building, expected to be completed by September 2013.

The data center, about 75 miles west of Charlotte, will house well beyond tens of thousands of servers, although company officials will not give a specific number. The servers will be home to much of Facebook’s daily traffic – which now comes from more than 800 million users, producing 250 million daily photo uploads, and checking out any of 900 million “objects,” such as group pages or events.

The $450 million data center will serve the Eastern U.S. and Europe; Facebook’s only other facility of this kind is in Prineville, Ore.

The rare tour of the Facebook campus, which drew Gov. Bev Perdue and other local and state officials, underscored state officials’ efforts to lure high-profile companies to North Carolina to build data centers with the help of incentives. Companies have cited the state’s low-cost electricity, ready access to water for cooling purposes and significant state building incentives in their decisions to locate here.

Facebook, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is eligible for N.C. tax breaks and can receive up to $11.4 million in incentives from Rutherford County. More than 30 of the announced 42 jobs have been filled, and the second building is expected to increase the number of permanent jobs.

Although critics have questioned whether the relatively low number of jobs at Facebook and other N.C. data centers is worth the multimillion dollar investment of state and local tax money, Perdue said the incentives are valuable.

“Any investment to bring a brand like Facebook is a justifiable investment,” Perdue said, standing in front of a mural at the data center composed of 8,300 photos of people who “like” the Rutherford County center’s Facebook page.

N.C. data hub grows

Other companies now a part of the state’s data hub include Google, which built a $600 million facility in Lenoir that will eventually employ more than 200 people. The company received $4.8 million from the state and could receive more than $100 million in total benefits.

Apple, building a $1 billion data center in Maiden in Catawba County, received $21 million in incentives from the city and county after the state legislature approved $46 million in tax breaks. That center is expected to create 50 jobs and an additional 250 positions in maintenance and security.

Time Warner Cable announced in July it is building a new data center in Charlotte, adding 225. That project is eligible for up to $2.9 million in state funds over nine years if it meets annual performance targets.

Dale Carroll, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce, said Tuesday both the Apple and Google projects are “on target” with creating promised jobs. Carroll and Perdue also talked about other jobs these data center projects create in construction and contract work.

Facebook plans to share

The Facebook campus, launched 11 months ago, is still bustling with construction; facility leaders said the campus employs about 500 construction workers a day. About 70 percent are local contractors, the company said. By December, 600 construction workers are expected daily, when work on the second building is well under way.

Outside the Rutherford County center, large concrete panels, which one official said serve as an artistic reference to bar codes, sit near the building entrance. Inside the 390,000-square-foot, two-level building, there’s modern artwork and comfortable furniture in gathering areas.

While the thousands of servers for the building’s lower level are still weeks away from being installed, center officials provided a glimpse of the technology that will be used to cool and power the computing infrastructure. Facebook designed and built all the workings of the data center – including the architecture of the facility, the power and electrical systems and the creation of the servers – as part of its “open compute project,” meaning it will share its data center technology with other businesses.

The idea is to spread the word about the energy-efficient practices used here and at its Oregon site, said Tom Furlong, global director of site operations for Facebook. Although the site will not be open for general tours, company officials plan to share the technology at coming industry events.

Furlong said one of the center’s unique features is the efficient way that outside air is drawn in, filtered and chilled to keep the servers cool. Typically, cooling units are used for this job.

Normally, companies patent and protect such technology, data center manager George Henry said.

“We invent it, develop it, manufacture it, and release it to the public to use.”

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