Cloud computing: How tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon store the world‘s data
n the evening of April 11, 2012, Mike Krieger, the co-founder of Instagram, gave a talk in San Francisco. What he must have known, though his audience didn’t, was that in less than 24 hours, Mark Zuckerberg would announce that he was buying Instagram for a billion dollars.
Given that he was about to become A Very Rich Man, Krieger hid his excitement well. The talk called “Scaling Instagram” was a long and technical one about the challenges of growing the popular photo app. One of the final slides (number 176 of 185) had just two words: “Unprecedented Times”. The next one said: “2 backend engineers can scale a system to 30+ million users.” On the eve of the Facebook deal, Instagram had bumped up that total to five engineers.
If this doesn’t sound quite as remarkable as it should, it’s because we are now inured to Silicon Valley startup stories originating in garages with a couple of geeks, who end up making millions – or a billion. Look at this ‘growth’ in a different way then: it’s as if Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built the first Apple computer and within a day or two of building that first prototype, were able to ship several thousand models to customers.
So you might retort of course, that software is different. You can ‘scale’ bits and bytes in a way you can’t with metal or glass or plastic. Fair enough.
So imagine this scenario: you create a piece of software which allows millions of users to upload millions of photographs and tweak them and tag them and share them. You need someplace to store those photographs and you need to be able to handle thousands or millions of users swarming over your website or app everyday without it going down.
In a world where competition is intense, users will simply dump you, if your app slows down or freezes. So your ‘downtime’ has to be pretty much close to zero. For the user, whether they are in New York, or Tokyo, or Ankara or Mumbai, you have to be always up, and always running, 24 hours a day.