Facebook, the social networking site, consistently ranks as either the first or second most-visited website in the world. It celebrated its one billionth unique active user last week. It stores a total of over 100 petabytes (about 100 million gigabytes) of user data and continuously adds more than 500 terabytes per day. Its IT infrastructure consists of over 60,000 servers in about 15 full-size data centers. With the exception of advertising, Facebook provides all of its services for free. How can the site support so many simultaneous users? How can it store such large amounts of accessible data? How does Facebook maintain its IT infrastructure costs at a manageable level without charging for anything? The answer: cloud computing.
Not many people recognize Facebook as a form of cloud computing. Many probably view it as nothing more than an interactive or customizable website. However, Facebook has all the required characteristics of a cloud-based application, including: 1) it can be accessed via the Internet and doesn’t have to be installed on the user’s hard drive; 2) multiple people can use it at once without affecting the performance of the application, the integrity of their accounts, or (if they choose) the privacy of their data; 3) it has a scalable infrastructure that can be quickly and easily expanded without disrupting the application. Though a normal website shares some of these characteristics, it also lacks the “computing” features of Facebook and other cloud-based solutions, such as the ability of users to store data and perform a variety of actions.
The example of Facebook shows how cloud computing can improve collaboration and increase the IT flexibility of an organization. The social networking site would be worthless as an offline version installed on the hard drive of a single user’s computer. The usefulness of the site would also be limited if it were restricted to a local network such as the LAN of an office or dormitory. Cloud computing, which can be accessed by any authorized user with an Internet connection, unlocks the full potential of Facebook by letting anyone in the world join and contribute to its community. In the same way, business applications should be hosted in the cloud so that they can be readily and securely accessed by off-site employees, contractors, and business partners.
Facebook also demonstrates the value of scalability. The site’s scalable architecture allows it to absorb large amounts of data without having to disrupt or divide its services. Facebook would not be able to support as many users or as much data without scalability. Expanding it would be much more expensive and require extensive customization: the separate software and hardware systems would have to be manually integrated. Organizations only have to connect additional hardware to a scalable IT infrastructure to increase its storage capacity or processing power. This is because the virtualization platforms of a scalable infrastructure can recognize and integrate new hardware into an existing system automatically. With scalability, a rapidly growing business (a social networking startup that metastasizes from an IT pet project into a 60,000-server mega-site, for example) can keep the same core infrastructure as it adds new users, data, and applications. While cloud-based and on-premise IT infrastructures can both be designed to be scalable, a cloud-based infrastructure does not require the purchase of new hardware (giving the organization flexibility in case of a temporary or seasonal expansion) and can be accessed from anywhere (letting the employees of an organization that has added new offices or locations utilize the same IT infrastructure).
As mentioned in the introduction, Facebook purchases and maintains its own data centers and servers. Most organizations that utilize cloud computing will select a third party company to host their infrastructure or applications for them. This saves the organizations from having to purchase their own IT hardware or hire their own personnel, dramatically lowering their overall IT costs. It wouldn’t make financial sense for Facebook to utilize third party hosting, however. For businesses with average-sized IT infrastructures, cloud computing lets them share the costs of building and maintaining a data center with their hosting company’s other clients. Facebook, on the other hand, requires full data centers worth of computing resources—it would be impossible or impractical for the website to share the resources or costs of a data center with anyone. This is not to say that cloud computing could not support a service of Facebook’s size (it certainly could) or that the site does not benefit at all from the innate cost-efficiencies of the technology.
For their own part, the 99.9% of businesses with data storage requirements less than 100 petabytes can expect to benefit from the increased collaboration, scalability, and cost-efficiency of cloud computing with a Private Cloud Solution from IronOrbit. For example, users can access their files and applications from anywhere with our Virtual Desktops. Also, our Hosted Infrastructure can be scaled up to support any amount of processing power or storage capacity. IronOrbit delivers a complete and fully-maintained IT Infrastructure—Hosted Desktops, Data Backup, 24x7x365 Technical Support, and 100% Uptime Guarantee all included—at a fixed low monthly rate. Make friends with the fastest and most cost-efficient and reliable cloud-based IT solution today!