Facebook’s Frank Frankovsky Talks Data Storage

By David Cohen 

Frank Frankovsky, vice president of hardware design and supply chain operations at Facebook and chairman and president of the Open Compute Project, spoke with Arik Hesseldahl and Mike Isaac of AllThingsD about how the social network configures its hardware to deal with the massive amounts of data it handles.

Following are some of the highlights of Frankovsky’s responses:

The original reason that we started building our own systems was about efficiency, which leads to positive environmental impact. And that is when we created the Open Compute Project. We aren’t the first one to do it, but we’re the first ones to share what we know, and a lot of others are starting to share what they know and contribute to the project, as well as consume from the project. A new theme in the data center is around networking, and another is around cold storage and archiving. Those are the two things that we think are currently sort of underserved in large scale computing environments.

I don’t have the daily growth numbers. We don’t talk about the total footprint size, but it numbers in the tens of thousands of servers. I can tell you that we add multiple petabytes of capacity every day.

It is pretty astonishing. And that’s why when I talk about the trends we’re seeing right now, one of the storage challenges we have is that a lot of that storage that we add every day is so-called hot storage, meaning that it’s storing data that’s frequently accessed for a short amount of time. And then it becomes warm and it becomes cold. The real challenge is to provide effective cold storage. It used to be that people would use tape to archive items. But if you’re scrolling back in your timeline and want to see a photo from a few years ago, you’re not going to wait for someone to go retrieve a tape. So one of the challenges we shared with the community was around a new way to think about cold storage. You still have to maintain good retrieval speed. You can’t lose the data. But what can you do? There are a lot of ideas being generated about it. Some are around using low write-endurance NAND flash memory chips.

We have to store it forever and make it accessible forever. When you really start to think long-term, that means that moving away from mechanical devices, like hard drives that spin, seems logical. Years from now, they may not still spin. So that makes solid-state storage seem like a logical way to increase the in endurance. These are the most precious memories from people’s lives, so the preservation of that data is something we consider a very high priority.

When and if we have issues, it’s all hands on deck, because we have more than 1 billion people who depend on Facebook.

Readers: Will Facebook be able to keep up with its data-storage demands?