Facebook's Insatiable Hunger for Hardware

Updated: Facebook these days is doing everything in its power to imitate Google, recruiting the search giant’s sales people, poaching its senior executives and — most importantly — using infrastructure as a competitive advantage. Like Google, Facebook has figured out that the right web infrastructure is the difference between user delight and dismay. And like Google, Facebook is finding out that it isn’t cheap.

I’ve been trying to get a handle on Facebook’s infrastructure for some time, but so far have been unable to get the company to open up. The last time I reached out to them, back in January, I was hearing that they had between 1,200 and 1,500 servers, along with storage and switches from EMC Corp. and Force 10 Networks respectively. As it turns out, those server numbers weren’t even close to the total servers used by them.

The company is running around 10,000 servers, according to Data Center Knowledge, citing comments made by Facebook VP of technology, Jeff Rothschild, at a recent MySQL user conference. (See video of the panel.) Of the 10,000 servers, 1,800 are from MySQL and around 805 of them are memcached servers. In order to house its sprawling infrastructure, Facebook has leased data center space from DuPont Fabros in Ashburn, Va., and Digital Realty Trust in Santa Clara, Calif., DCK reports.

How much is Facebook spending on its infrastructure? The company isn’t going to tell us, but there are clues. Server and storage company Rackable today reported first-quarter 2008 sales of around $69 million. Facebook is one of its largest customers, accounting for around 10 percent of Rackable’s sales (that number could be higher, but we’ll have to wait for Rackable’s 10-Q to get a clearer picture), so some quick, back-of-the-envelope math reveals $7 million in spending by the social networking company. A well placed source of mine just let me know that Facebook is going to spend over $9 million more on servers this year. That should be good news for Rackable. Next on my list is an estimate of Facebook’s bandwidth and data center costs.

The hardware spending by startups like Facebook will be a topic of discussion at our Structure 08 conference, where we are hoping to learn more about the infrastructure secrets of all of today’s top (and fast-growing) web players.

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