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Facebook, the social networking giant that’s already made big waves with its open-source
server plans, is now taking on storage.
The company is now building
its own storage hardware to keep up with the exploding demand of its more than 840 million users, according to a Wired report. Facebook users put millions of their own
photos and other digital paraphernalia on the site.
Frank Frankovsky, the former Dell hardware guy that who now spearheads Facebook’s
data center hardware effort told Wired:
We’re taking the same approach we took with servers: Eliminate anything
that’s not directly adding value. The really valuable part of storage is the disk drive itself and the software that
controls how the data gets distributed to and recovered from those drives. We want to eliminate any ancillary components around
the drive — and make it more serviceable.
In October, Frankovsky told GigaOM that Facebook was also looking at storage
as part of the overall Open
Compute Project it launched
to standardize the energy-efficient data center gear. At that time he said: “Storing data at this scale has some unique
challenges. We’ll work on those contributions and with the rest of the community on this.”
Facebook fields a state-of-the-art data center in Prineville, Ore., that many techies are studying. The underlying
technology in that data center is the foundation of the Open Compute Foundation,
which the project morphed into after Facebook relinquished control.
Few other details on the storage effort were forthcoming, but whatever
Facebook does in data-center hardware — or any technology, for that matter — is bound to catch people’s
The term cloud computing evokes whimsical images of angels compulsively checking their
e-mails from pillowy cumuli. But in reality, the phrase refers
to a ubiquitous but poorly defined method of virtual resource sharing.
The concept has garnered a lot of attention, but skeptics have questioned whether private data and essential computing needs can be trusted to strangers
in the cloud.
scientists at Victoria University, in New Zealand; Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany; and Cardiff University,
in the United Kingdom, say their approach could make the concept of cloud computing more palatable.
At the IEEE Cloud 2010 conference in Miami on 5 July, they proposed the creation of a "social cloud,"
which would facilitate the sharing of information, hardware, and services by using the computing resources of a person’s
online network "friends."
The researchers say that existing friendships on social media sites like Facebook could provide a reliable framework
for long-term, regulated resource sharing. However, social networking would have to be combined with certain market controls
like financial payments, social ranking, or credit trading to encourage appropriate behavior in such a setup, they say. Sharing
within a network of friends, according to the researchers, could cut down on privacy concerns and certain inefficiencies inherent
to conventional cloud computing.
Though they’re not the first to consider construction of
a social cloud, the computer scientists say they are the first to propose a specific infrastructure through which it could
operate. Their model integrates social networking, cloud computing, and "volunteer computing," which is a method
of pooling storage and computational resources such as those used by the extraterrestrial-signal-seeking SETI-home.
In their early-stage research, the team used Facebook as its prototypical
social network. The social cloud is presented as an application accessed through the site. According to Kyle Chard, a doctoral
researcher at Victoria University, the model works by connecting users to resources posted in online "marketplaces."
In the experimental model, users acquire the resources by exchanging virtual credits. Additional credits cannot be purchased,
only earned through participation.
A virtual economy like this one, the researchers say, acts as an internal control, encouraging the sharing of resources
and preventing their overuse.
Some experts find the proposal intriguing but are troubled by fundamental questions. In today’s social networks,
the general mind-set is "the more friends you have, the better," says Maik Lindner, who studies cloud computing
at SAP Research CEC Belfast, in Northern Ireland, with funding from the European Union. This the-more-the-merrier mind-set
is "contradictory to having trust derived from social networks," he says.
Also, Lindner says, the fact that the social cloud operates on
the premise of mixing business with pleasure could spoil the friend network, a possibility that may detract from its appeal
to potential users.
The idea is "clever,"
says Bernie Hogan, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, in England, but he agrees
with Lindner that there are downsides to introducing a market-driven system into a social network, because social networks
are "based on different values and norms."
For now, the research team emphasized that this is a preliminary model. However, in response
to skeptics who argue that most online friendships do not translate into trusting relationships, Kris Bubendorfer, professor
of computer science at Victoria University, has an answer. "We don’t assume that all members within a social network
have the same level of trust," he says.
Rather, the social cloud relies on existing Facebook friend-sorting mechanisms, which group
people according to the type of association they have with one another and could be used to assess different levels of trust
between users, says Bubendorfer. Social cloud users would also be able to define the limits of their resource sharing, choosing
to make their documents and services available to different groups depending on the perceived level of trust.
The result, say the
researchers, could be a more active cloud-computing community that has the potential to expand and contract based on real-life
relationships and the needs of users. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
If you invented something
cheaper, more efficient, and more powerful than what came before, you might want to keep the recipe a closely guarded secret.
Yet Facebook took the opposite approach after opening a 147,000-square-foot computing center in rural Oregon this April.
It published blueprints
for everything from the power supplies of its computers to the super-efficient cooling system of the building. Other companies
are now cherry-picking ideas from those designs to cut the costs of building similar facilities for cloud computing.
The Open Compute Project,
as the effort to open-source the technology in Facebook's vast data center is known, may sound altruistic. But it is an attempt
to manipulate the market for large-scale computing infrastructure in Facebook's favor.
The company hopes to encourage hardware suppliers
to adopt its designs widely, which could in turn drive down the cost of the sever computers that deal with the growing mountain
of photos and messages posted by its 750 million users. Just six months after the project's debut, there are signs that the
strategy is working and that it will lower the costs of building—and hence using—cloud computing infrastructure
for other businesses, too.
Facebook's peers, such as Google and Amazon, maintain a tight silence about how they built the cloud infrastructure
that underpins their businesses. But that stifles the flow of ideas needed to make cloud technology better, says Frank Frankovsky,
Facebook's director of technical operations and one of the founding members of the Open Compute Project. He's working to encourage
other companies to contribute improvements to Facebook's designs.
Among the partners: chip makers Intel
and AMD, which helped Facebook's engineers tweak the design of the custom motherboards in its servers to get the best computing
performance for the least electrical power use. Chinese Web giants Tencent and Baidu are also involved; after touring Facebook's
Oregon facility, Tencent's engineers shared ideas about how to distribute power inside a data center more efficiently.
Even Apple, which recently
launched its iCloud service, is testing servers based on Facebook's designs. Eventually the Open Compute Project could exist
independently of the company that started it, as a shared resource for the industry.
Facebook's project may be gaining
traction because companies that manufacture servers, such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell, face a threat as business customers
stop buying their own servers and instead turn to enormous third-party cloud operations like those offered by Amazon. "IT
purchasing power is being consolidated into a smaller number of very large data centers," Frankovsky says. "The
product plans and road maps of suppliers haven't been aligned with that."
Being able to study the designs of one of the biggest cloud operators around can
help suppliers reshape their product lines for the cloud era.
However, not everyone wants servers to run just like Facebook's, which are designed specifically
for the demands of a giant online social network. That's why Nebula, which offers a cloud computing platform derived from
one originally developed at NASA, is tweaking Facebook's designs and contributing them back to the Open Compute project. Nebula
CEO Chris Kemp says this work will help companies that need greater memory and computing resources, such as biotech companies
running simulations of drug mechanisms.
Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, which sells open-source cloud software to help businesses manage customer relations,
sees challenges for Facebook's project. "There have always been efforts on open hardware, but it is much harder to collaborate
and share ideas than with open software," he says. Nevertheless, Augustin expects the era of super-secret data center
technology to eventually fade, simply because the secrecy is a distraction for businesses.
"Many Internet companies today think that the way they
run a data center is what differentiates them, but it is not," he says.
"Facebook has realized that opening up will drive down data centers' costs
so they can focus on their product, which is what really sets them apart." ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++