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June 1, 2011

Facebook Facility a Work in Progress

FOREST CITY — How the completed Facebook Data Center campus off Old Caroleen Road will look can only be left to the imagination.

The finished picture is now blurred by steal beams, generators, the beginnings of Facebook-patented cooling system and some 390 project engineers and construction workers, the vast majority from Rutherford County.

Roads have been built, although they aren’t yet on any official map. Workers nicknamed the main artery leading into the planned 335,000-square-foot site “Social Circle.”

Makes sense. 

Facebook, founded in 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, has more than 600 million users worldwide and is looking to make inroads into outposts of technology and, for that matter, freedom, in places such as China and Iran. The social networking giant is in the midst of conquering Brazil by appealing to ex-patriots, said George Henry.

Henry, operations manager for the data center, on Wednesday led Rutherford County commissioners and other local officials on a tour of the mammoth campus. 

The visitors’ responses were complimentary and predictable, the words awesome, amazing and unbelievable used repetitively.

The data center is being built in phases involving four sections. The contractors, DPR Fortis, are scheduled to hand Section A over to Facebook in September. A power substation from Duke Energy is in place, as is the building shell, in which banks of servers will be installed. The patented air-conditioning system, in which the heat from the powerful servers is funneled into what amounts to a large air-conditioning system on the top floor, will cool the building to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The air, said Henry, “is completely recycled.” It’s the same design Facebook uses at its Prineville, Ore., data center, though because of the differences in climate project officials are eager to test it here.

“It’s a lot more moist here than the high desert of Oregon,” Henry said. 

An open area of the building will include space for about 45 desks, as well as space for a dining area and video-game room. Henry expects Facebook to start distributing data from the site in January, and not until one server room is about 80 percent full will project managers commission the next area. 

“Most of what we do physically is on the screen; it’s in the virtual world,” Henry said.

But things are moving quickly. During the tour Henry, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area but remains here during the week, pointed to a cavernous space finished with smooth concrete. He arrived March 16, and at that time “it was still dirt. The speed of which they work here is incredible,” he said.

The old Mako Marine building is all but gone, though workers are careful to dispatch the remnants of the structure into neatly arranged piles. No trash. 

“You never see a garbage can go out to waste,” Henry said. The refuse is sorted and recycled. Facebook has already commissioned a local artist to build a sculpture from metal scraps emanating from the once-functional building. “These guys are clean, clean, clean.”

The site is being built around, and in consideration of, the dwarf-flowered heartleaf, a threatened plant native to the county. Facebook is also protecting a natural trout stream on the site. When finished, Henry foresees a picturesque campus, spanning 140 acres featuring gardening areas and a running track. The site will employ about 45 people, according to initial estimates, although Facebook’s mere presence here is a boon to the county, which county commissioners chair Bill Eckler likens to an anchor store in a large mall, drawing people in. 

From a rooftop, in temperatures that approached the 90s — made even more formidable by the fresh black top — the view goes for miles; a water tower not far from the site is special, however, if only because it will one day carry the trademark Facebook “f.”

“The goal,” Henry said, “is to have every sixth-grader who tours this site say this is where I’m from, and I couldn’t be happier.”

by John Trump, Editor @ The Digital Courier