Facebook and Google Build Their Own Servers

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Big Internet companies find they can build better servers for their needs than they can buy.

Only a few years ago, the idea of a company building its own servers would have seemed preposterous. But times change. A growing number of companies, including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, are bypassing the likes of HP, IBM and Dell and taking matters into their own hands in order to get the specs they desire. 

According to Gartner, Inc., approximately 20 percent of all servers now fall into the do-it-yourself category. In-Stat analyst Jim McGregor recently was quoted as saying that this approach has potential to redefine the server business. "It’s definitely a threat to the traditional business model,” he said.

Facebook, for example, uses servers for highly specialized tasks in cloud-centric environments. And in fact, the company is focusing heavily on an open sourcing approach to its data center operations. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated that this is a way to lower costs and create a leaner and more energy efficient computing platform. “You can build servers and design them or get the products that the mass manufacturers put out," he says. "A lot of the stuff put out wasn’t in line with what we needed.”

As a result of custom power supplies and other tweaks, Facebook reports that its new data center in Prineville, Oregon is 38 more energy efficient than its other facilities and the cost of building the data center was 24 percent lower.

Google, meanwhile, made the switch to DIY servers around 2005 for many of the same reasons, including a focus on greater energy efficiency and a desire to use built-in 12-volt batteries that supply power in the event of a disruption.

Not surprisingly, many companies—particularly Internet businesses—are following suit. Frequently, cloud servers and the data centers that house them have very different technical needs. Although the likes of HP and Dell are beginning to take heed and product teams at these firms are looking to design more flexible servers, the companies face challenges with the lower margins often associated with stripped down cloud and Internet servers.

This article was originally published on 2011-09-21
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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