Why Instagram is likely moving on from Amazon’s cloud


Social photo-sharing service Instagram is pretty proud of the infrastructure it built atop the Amazon Web Services cloud, but I have to wonder whether the startup’s acquisition by Facebook today means all that effort was for nothing. Well, it wasn’t for nothing, obviously — Instagram was able to scale to handle tens of millions of users without developing a reputation for being slow or unavailable — but Facebook is pretty adamant about running its services in its own custom-built data centers. And for good reason.

AWS is great for startups with lean budgets, but it’s not unheard for them to leave it behind when they strike it rich. There are plenty of reasons not to remain in the cloud, ranging from the cost to availability to the complexity of building scalable, high-performance web applications on virtual infrastructure. As Facebook explained in its S-1 filing earlier this year, providing an always-on, always-optimized user experience is critical to the success of its platform.

The Instagram engineering team has opened up lately about its core technology stack and how it handled millions of new Android downloads in a single day without going down, but Facebook has been up to slightly bigger things. It has designed its own data centers from the servers up to the facility. It operates one of the world’s largest Hadoop clusters, and very likely the world’s largest MySQL implementation. It has developed everything from a PHP-optimization platform to a NoSQL database to a tool for auto-provisioning and configuring tens of thousands of servers. Its former engineers get acqui-hired to help companies such as Dropbox take their platforms to the next level.

If Facebook considers Instagram a critical part of its mobile strategy going forward — and at a billion-dollar price tag, it probably should — it might not be too keen on letting Instagram keep running on the fairly reliable, but far from perfect AWS cloud. Not when Facebook has all the money and all the talent to make sure Instagram stays up and running safely on Facebook’s own servers.

Facebook has declined to comment on its plans for Instagram’s backend, so this is all just speculation for now. But if I were a betting man, I’d say there are already some engineers working really hard on re-architecting Instagram for the physical world.

Image courtesy of Celeste Hutchins.

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