Blog Post

Google still dwarfs Facebook on the infrastructure front

In a tech world obsessed with the battle of the platforms and semi-obsessed with counting servers and drooling over data centers, I think it’s worth seeing how Google (s goog) and Facebook (s fb) stack up based on their latest earnings reports.

I’m not sure exactly what the charts below say, but I think they say Facebook will probably never match Google in terms of server footprint or revenue. Investors might be happy with lower capital expenditures, but the counterpoint is that heavy infrastructure investment is a sign of growth and preparation for big things to come. Although, perhaps nobody ever thought Facebook would match Google in any meaningful way, so maybe that’s not such a big deal.

First, though, several caveats worth pointing out:

  • Facebook still leases some data center space and I’ve included that number in its infrastructure investment in quarters where the company has disclosed it. If you’re really into examining the company’s lease payments, which are scheduled several years out in some cases, I suggest reading its S-1 filing issued before the company’s initial public offering.
  • At least two Facebook acquisitions — and rather substantial ones in Instagram and Parse — are still running on Amazon Web Services from what I understand. It’s also my understanding they’ll eventually be ported to the Facebook infrastructure. A Quora contributor estimated Instagram’s annual AWS spend to be a few million dollars, based on publicly disclosed architecture specs from 2012 (although who knows how accurate that estimate is).
  • Were Facebook to acquire (hypothetically) Pinterest, Foursquare and/or Yelp, it would have a lot more AWS-hosted infrastructure (and not that much more revenue). If it bought Snapchat, it would have stuff running on Google App Engine.
  • Google paid $2 billion for a massive data center and office building in Manhattan in the fourth quarter of 2010. That accounts for about half of that year’s spending.
  • Google is also spending on things like wind farms and fiber rollouts, which might very well factor into its investments in what earnings statements refer to as “property and equipment.” They also will increase profits.
  • I opted to omit revenue from Motorola Mobility in calculating Google’s revenues, for the purpose of comparing each company’s core web businesses.
  • The quarterly comparisons data back to the first quarters during which Facebook disclosed quarterly infrastructure investment. We do have annual investment going back to 2009 for Facebook, which I compared with Google’s annual investment dating back to 2003, in the third chart. This year’s numbers are through the first half of 2013: Google is on pace to outspend its 2012 total, while Facebook is not.

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