One of Google's long-time strategic advantages -- and one that impacts everything they do -- has been their proprietary data center design and use of easily replaceable low-end PCs as servers. Though Google has kept they key details secret, you'll find some interesting facts revealed in +Steven Levy
's new book In The Plex
(which, by the way, I highly recommend: http://amzn.to/eBSr6Y
). In short, the "world" (and world of competitors) generally knows that Google is doing something unique and powerful, but no one quite knows what it is.
How is Facebook fighting back on this front? Facebook is leading something called the "open compute" project, which is an "open-source" / Linux-type attitude applied towards hardware and data center design. Facebook and other members of the group share notes on the designs used by some of the biggest online companies in the world, including Tencent, Baidu and Microsoft. Members (including Dell, ASUS and Intel) are completely open with their "wins" and "losses" in terms of energy efficiency & hardware design. As Quentin Hardy notes in his NYT article on Open Compute (http://nyti.ms/uGpKiy
), "By creating Open Compute, Facebook most likely hopes to neutralize some of Google’s advantage in data-center design, by putting Google in competition with brains from around the world working on a common standard."
Put simply, with the introduction of Open Compute in April, the battle between Facebook & Google has gone beyond the software and consumer-facing "feature" level... The battle has a new dimension and has moved to an area that we as consumers don't think about much, but is incredibly important for issues like data integrity, speed, and economic efficiency. We tend to think about the features of a service, but data center architecture can have huge impact on the up-time/quality of service (think of Twitter's constant fail-whale), and just imagine how devastating it'd be if a large social network ever lost a significant amount of your data. Doubling or tripling your infrastructure for backups and potential outages is not cheap nor is it easy. These issues represent the gargantuan tasks that employ thousands of people at companies like Google (and hundreds at Facebook).
I've mentioned before that Facebook has a history of making smart moves to leverage the power of platforms & crowd-sourcing (http://tcrn.ch/r7Izoh
) Open Compute is another smart move and typical Facebook. Because Google is secretive about their own data center design, we can only speculate on what reaction they may have to it, and wonder how far ahead of the world Google is in their current infrastructure. Man I'd love to spend a few hours in one of Google's data centers. :-)