White Paper: It’s All About Efficiency

By David Cohen — the global partnership formed by Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung, with the goal of connecting the two-thirds of the world’s population currently without Internet access — released a white paper Monday on the important role efficiency must play in achieving that goal.

The white paper focuses on both building more efficient infrastructure technologies and creating mobile applications that require less bandwidth, and Facebook pointed to the roles of Qualcomm and Ericsson in ensuring that mobile networks and infrastructure will be ready to handle the next wave of mobile Internet usage.

The white paper refers back to the early days of Facebook on several occasions:

Optimizing for efficiency has always been central to the way Facebook builds infrastructure. In its early days, Facebook ran on a single server that cost $85 per month and had to handle traffic for every Harvard student who used the service. With the limited financial resources available at the time, Facebook had to be capable of running with only a few people maintaining the service, even as more and more schools joined. was first coded in PHP, which was perfect for the quick iterations that have since defined our style of product rollouts and release engineering. PHP is a “dynamically typed” programming language, allowing for greater speed than a “statically typed” language like C++. As a programming language, PHP is simple to learn, write, read and debug. New engineers at Facebook can contribute a lot faster with PHP than with other languages, producing a faster pace of innovation.

However, it soon became clear that if Facebook were to scale exponentially, PHP would be an obstacle to achieving this efficiently. Although PHP enabled speedy shipping of new products and changes to the service, its continued use would require exponentially more servers. A new approach was needed.

When Facebook began exploring whether to build its own data centers in 2009, the company had grown to 600 employees and was serving around 200 million people. Since then, Facebook has grown to 5,299 employees and 1.15 billion users as of June 2013. With this kind of exponential growth in mind, an early decision was made to build our own facilities from the ground up, with a central focus on sustainability and efficiency.

Facebook said in a Newsroom post announcing the white paper:

As founding members of, we believe it’s possible to build infrastructure that will sustainably provide free access to basic Internet services in a way that enables everyone with a phone to connect to the Internet.

With this paper we hope to provide a small contribution to the work of countless companies, entrepreneurs, and innovators working to drive new gains in efficiency. By understanding some of the efforts that have already been made towards this end, and the lessons learned along the way, we hope to inspire new thinking and approaches — and help move the industry forward.

Readers: Do you think will succeed in its mission?