EBay’s data centers, which serve 105 million active users around the world, are achieving resiliency in new ways while going toward a net-zero-energy data center operation through the use of natural-gas fuel cells.

Dean Nelson
Infrastructure Management
Data Centers, Network, Network Security, Supply chain.





  • Data centers are large warehouses full of computers, which use a lot of power…. To serve our 105 million active users around the world.
  • The data centers themselves is where the transactions happen; whether you’re searching for something, buying something, or selling something, they all go through data centers.  So we have the responsibility to be cost-effective for the company, and the smallest amount of carbon footprint for the company.
  • Fuel cells are basically boxes that take natural gas in and create energy out… If I’m going to generate power on-site, then I want to consume it on-site….
  • A data center is a mission-critical environment.  eBay has $68B in goods that change hands every year.  That’s over $2000/second.  All of that happens at data centers.


Data Center Resiliency...

  • You want to make sure it doesn’t fail... The traditional way people design is with generators and UPS (uninterruptible power supply - battery) systems, and have many of them, so you have backup to the backup to the backup… lots of redundancy to make sure it doesn’t go down.  We’ve challenged that.
  • There’s new technologies and new innovations coming out.  How do we apply this in the data center environment? … Usually data center owners and operator and designers really don’t like to take risks because it’s really impactful if they’re wrong… but for us we really want to see what we can do differently…
  • The fuel cell is a distributed box, meaning there is a 25W fuel cell, that goes into a stack of 2000W, which goes into 40KW stacks, and 5 of those creating 200KW.  [Sue: ‘almost the same …distributed architecture of the data center is being replicated for the energy solution of the data center’]…If I have failures in the fuel cells, I just lose capacity, but I don’t use the system.
  • In Hurricane Sandy, the electric power went out, but the natural gas lines were virtually unaffected…. Even during the earthquakes.  So it is a more resilient source of power.  And it is aligned with our corporate goals.


Asking the Right Questions...

  • Whether it’s small or whether it’s a big project like this, challenge the status quo.  It’s as simple as that.
  • I looked at my team and said…”So if we wanted to use fuel cells, could we in the design you have?” …. “No” … “Then stop.  We are limiting ourselves in what we apply with new innovations… by taking 35-year-old design philosophies and applying them today.  I want you to take your design and put it on the side, and take a new piece of paper."  ...[the] Aha!  That system is more resilient than the one we’re doing.
  • It’s asking the question, and challenging the status quo, and taking the blinders off when looking at the problem.  Once you have that, the innovation really starts coming out.  It’s not a single person’s thing, it’s a collaboration.




For some SMART fun:
Enjoy this snapshot of Dean sporting a "Solar Pack".  This nifty carrier will charge your electronic devices inside!


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