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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Older Facebook photos will be moved to ‘cold storage’ soon

One of the access hallways in the new cold storage facility (image credit: Randy L. Rasmussen / The Oregonian)
Ever wonder how much space Facebook has reserved for your old photographs that are still on your profile?

The world’s most popular social network stores more than 240 billion photos and another 350 million photos are added each day, so obviously that requires a truckload of server space. But giving you immediate access to all the photos you want to see will require Facebook to save them all in a ‘hot storage’ facility...

However, it’s not everyday that someone revisits their old pictures, and Facebook knows this. Facebook, in fact, has exact numbers about how many people access old pictures across the board. The company says 82 percent of its traffic is focussed on just 8 percent of its photos. So naturally, it would be a waste of time, money and effort to have live servers for the remaining 92 percent.

This is where the new "cold storage" system at Facebook’s Prineville data centre comes into play. The cold storage facility is designed to make the photos that are in heavy rotation more readily available for users, while at the same time storing pictures that are not typically in such high demand. 

The catch is older pictures won’t show on your PC or mobile as soon as some of the newer material, but Facebook claims difference in time will be negligible. “The principle will be so that it doesn’t impact the user experience – so think about a matter of seconds, or milliseconds,” Michael Kirkland, a Facebook Communication Manager told Oregon Live

The new facility is currently being built and the new storage system will be launched in phases on three data hubs, the first of which is expected to be ready by August or September. Each hub is housed in a 16,000-square-foot area and could potentially hold an exabyte of data, equivalent to a whopping 1 million standard hard drives.

Facebook’s Prineville facility in Oregon is the first ever built by the company and started operations in April 2011. It holds thousands of servers that are always on, ready to deliver you your everyday Facebook hit instantly. On the other hand, the new cold storage facility will have servers that will be "asleep" most of the time. When there is a request for older material, a few alert servers are called into action and summon the others to deliver their data.

Facebook estimates the new storage at the Prineville facility, which has 70 employees, will cost one-third less than its standard data centre and occupies a space much smaller than live servers. It also offers eight times more storage and are five times more energy efficient, according to the company. Facebook has said that it used 71 million kilowatts of power in the first nine months of its operations in Prineville and that is set to rise as more of the facility comes online to handle all the new data that the social network is inundated with every day. The new cold storage system will deliver power savings while at the same time not limiting the functionality of the site.

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