A peek inside Facebook's data center

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by JEREMY MARKOVICH

NBC Charlotte

Posted on November 8, 2012 at 11:04 AM

FOREST CITY, N.C. -- This is a story about what happens when you post.

Every time you log on to Facebook, every time you post a picture -- no matter where you are in the world -- that data, that snapshot, that password ends up here, inside a quarter-mile-long, 350,000-square-foot building in Forest City, North Carolina, an hour and a half’s drive west of Charlotte.

Put simply, data centers run the Internet. They store information, run programs and answer your questions. If you ask Google what a data center is, Google uses a data center to give you the answer.

North Carolina is rife with these places. Google’s got one in Lenoir, Apple has one in Maiden and Disney is reportedly building one in Kings Mountain. Facebook has Forest City. When you log on, anywhere in the world, your name and password pass through a set of servers. Another set of servers in another row bring up your Facebook page. If you upload a picture, it also ends up in Forest City in another room. Every picture ever uploaded to Facebook is in that room.

Everything is backed up, so if one server fails, your picture or your status update won’t disappear. There are more than 100,000 servers in the Forest City Data Center. Each one has enough power to handle the needs of a small office. And all of those servers generate a lot of heat. There are fans everywhere, pulling in outside air and circulating the air from the servers on the floor below. If the air’s too hot, they cool it down with misters.

It all uses a lot of electricity, enough to power maybe 1,000 homes, says Keven McCammon, who helps run the place. And if the power goes out, Facebook has 14 tractor trailer-sized diesel generators to keep the site up and running.

“This is to ensure that Facebook is always available,” McCammon says.

So why is Facebook in Forest City?

The power’s cheap, the incentives from North Carolina and Rutherford County are generous, and we’re close to the East Coast. That’s good for speed. “We don’t like users to wait at all,” says McCammon.

In fact, Facebook is now so big it’s already building another data center right across from its current location, to have enough room for all of your status updates, your pictures and your comments. With one billion users, Facebook needs more room to grow.

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