Wired has a post on how Facebook has decided to forgo normal commercial options for digital storage hardware in its new data center. At first glance, this kind of news is underwhelming and predictable. Facebook has a huge demand for storage, and it makes good business sense to develop Facebook-specific storage gear. Doing so would ensure stable supply, consistent product for ease of replacement, would reduce costs.
The interesting part of this story isn’t that they are doing it by themselves, but how they are doing it. Facebook has taken the unusual step of not only mandating production of the storage units, but also of how they work. As Facebook did with their data center and their server design, unnecessary components are being eliminated from deployed storage components potentially reducing operating costs while simultaneously increasing reliability. Additionally, the storage units are being designed to remove bothersome mechanisms. As Frank Franovsky, the man that oversees hardware design at Facebook states:
I’ve never understood why hot-plug drive carriers have to come with these plastic handles on them… And if you’ve actually mounted a drive inside one of those drive carriers, there are these little bitty screws that you inevitably lose — and you’ll likely lose one onto a board that’s live and powered. That’s not a good thing.
Frank is right, poorly designed components represent future cost and reliability liabilities. By taking control of the hardware design associated with the storage system and overall infrastructure, Facebook is allowing itself to increase its efficiency while simultaneously reducing costs. An additional side benefit of all this hardware re-engineering is that these designs will be released to the public at tech specific summits and could be improved upon, thereby improving the designs even further.
The fundamental shift in philosophy from utilization of deluxe infrastructure elements to a stripped down, bare-bones approach allow Facebook unprecedented flexibility in terms of hardware maintenance, facilities planning, and hardware redundancy. In a real sense, Facebook infrastructure initiatives translate into a significant competitive business advantage over others in the social networking arena.