April 11, 2011 – While some may dismiss Green IT as fad, for insurance data center managers concerned about energy usage and its impact on IT budgets, it’s no passing fancy.

While the data centers of some insurance companies are indeed colossal, they pale in scale next to the operations of companies such as Facebook and Google.

A new initiative by Facebook — the Open Compute Project — seeks to tackle data center energy usage, and reveals the design and best practices the social networking giant employed as it built its new data center in Prineville, Oregon.

“Inspired by the model of open source software, we want to share the innovations in our data center for the entire industry to use and improve upon,” Jonathan Heiliger, VP of technical operations for Facebook, said in an online posting announcing the project. “As a first step, we are publishing specifications and mechanical designs for the hardware used in our data center, including motherboards, power supply, server chassis, server rack, and battery cabinets. In addition, we’re sharing our data center electrical and mechanical construction specifications. This technology enabled the Prineville data center to achieve an initial power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.07, compared with an average of 1.5 for our existing facilities.”

To achieve this efficiency, Heiliger says Facebook engineers returned to the company’s hacker roots and reconstructed servers with efficiency in mind. By rethinking the electric design, power distribution and thermal design of the server, the team was able to pare down its power usage by 13 percent. The custom-designed power supply, which converts the alternating current from the grid into the direct current consumed by the motherboard, operates at 94.5 percent efficiency.

In a video explaining the accomplishments and goals of the Open Compute Project, Frank Frankovsky, director, hardware design and supply chain for Facebook, says efforts to maximize mechanical performance and thermal and electrical efficiency in the data center as a whole also were vital.

“The thermal side is the other key area of efficiency,” Frankovsky said. “We use the data center as a cooling device for the servers. We are using a lot less server fan power by utilizing the data center fans. They are larger diameter fans so they can move a lot more air with a lot less power.”

The upshot of these efforts is that Facebook’s energy consumption per unit of computing power has declined by 38 percent. Insurance CIOs and data center managers with an eye toward trimming costs can find the datacenter and server specs, and mechanical designs free and readily available here.

This column originally appeared on Insurance Networking News.