Facebook Growing Up, Focusing on Infrastructure Efficiency and Security

Facebook is showing new signs of maturity and a willingness to tackle tough, unsexy problems. In the last few days it’s made four announcements around hardware efficiency and cybersecurity: the opening of a self-cooling server farm in the Arctic, the launch of its Open Compute foundation for infrastructure open sourcing, details on its Facebook Immune System for thwarting hackers and spammers, and the release of new login security features for users.

Even though Facebook is a fail fast-style startup run by a young CEO, it’s concentrating on stability. This means reducing both server costs and the vulnerability of the user experience to malicious parties trying to exploit it. As the company heads towards an IPO, these long term efforts could bolster confidence in potential investors.

Facebook stepped up efforts to create cheap, environmentally friendly data centers today with the announcement of plans to build a new server farm in Luleå, Sweden. Just south of the Arctic Circle, the area is cold enough that no air conditioning will be required to cool the 11 football fields-worth of servers, reports The Telegraph. The site was specifically chosen because of its proximity to hydroelectric dams on the Lule River and the prevalence of fibre optic cable in the region

With no cooling costs, low-cost energy to power the servers, and high data transfer speeds means that the Luleå Data Center will be even more efficient than Facebook’s stateside Prineville, OR and Rutherford, NC centers. Facebook’s willingness to scout so far from home for a location shows its global orientation.

Facebook launched the Open Compute Project in April to open source server and data center designs in hopes of improving efficiency for itself and all other data-heavy companies. It could also be designed to reduce the competitive advantage of companies such as Google that don’t reveal their designs. Now Facebook has formed a non-profit foundation to run the project. Partners include Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Intel, Baidu, and Mozilla.

By spearheading the open source project, Facebook intends to cull innovation from around the world to make sure its hardware is efficient as possible without tackling the research and associated costs all on its own. This will allow it to focus resources elsewhere so it can retain its efficiency and small headcount.

Less than 0.5% of Facebook users experience spam each day in part thanks the the Facebook Immune System. The defense system, run by a 30- person security team, is designed to weed out spam and malicious links. It analyzes up to 650,000 user actions per second and 2 trillion link clicks per day, the company recently revealed to New Scientist. Though it may temporarily annoy users, new stats show that Facebook blocks 220 million malicious actions and 250,000 to 600,000 accounts a day to keep threats from spreading.

In case a user’s account is hacked, Facebook is providing more ways for them to regain access. These include Social Authentication that lets users identify friends in photos to prove they’re an account owner, and the Trusted Friends feature announced this week, that sends an access code to a locked out user’s closest friends who can share it with them so they can login again.

These security features on the front and back end keep users from having the terrible experience of a sustained loss of access to their account that can push them and the friends they complain to away from Facebook. In the future, the combination of security precautions and Facebook’s 300-person security and safety team could help it fend off massive attacks that could disrupt service and shake faith in its reliability as a communication medium.

The past few years have seen Facebook grow its user base to 800 million, producing a network effect that protects it from competitors. It has relentlessly evolved its product, even when users were resistant to change, allowing it to incorporate ideas that could have disrupted it had it remained stagnant. It’s created a lucrative Platform developers want to build on. Finally, its turned its Pages and advertising products into central components of brand and local marketing, giving it the money to fund innovation elsewhere. All the core pieces of its business are in place.

These latest improvements to efficiency and security might not be as flashy as a redesign or product launch, but they strengthen the service in ways it was moving too fast to focus on when it was younger. While only seven years old, Facebook is looking more and more like an established, sophisticated company ready to deliver value for a long time into the future — in time for the initial public offering that it is said to be planning for next year.

[Image credit: Fast Company]

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