Tale of two data center strategies: Apple vs. Facebook

Tale of two data center strategies: Apple vs. Facebook

Summary: Apple's upcoming iCloud service revolves around a data center in Maiden N.C. and specifics about the innards of this computing powerhouse are few and far between, but what details are emerging look vastly different than what you'll find at Facebook.


Apple's upcoming iCloud service revolves around a data center in Maiden N.C. and specifics about the innards of this computing powerhouse are few and far between. But the details that are emerging about Apple's data center look vastly different than those build-your-own creations from the likes of Google and Facebook.

As noted following WWDC, Apple's data center slides appeared to feature a dose of Hewlett-Packard boxes---along with some gear from Teradata. Apple's most recent job listings for Maiden N.C. highlight the data center environment, which will look familiar to most technology executives. Like a good ice cream shop, there are flavors of just about everything.

From the job listings for Maiden openings:

"Our data center environment consists of Mac OS X, IBM/AIX, Sun/Solaris, and Linux systems. Though this position is focused primarily on Red Hat Linux and Oracle Enterprise Linux, you should also understand SAN, RAID, file system, and IP networking technology."

"Candidate will be responsible for storage on IBM/AIX, Sun/Solaris, and Linux operating systems working with IBM Enterprise storage including DS technologies, Netapp(FCP and NAS) and EMC storage systems."

"Should be familiar with director class SAN switches, preferably Brocade working with DCFM, as well as various workgroup SAN switches...A strong Sun background in relation to SAN. Tivoli Storage Manager with IBM Tape hardware and/or other Enterprise level backup/restore software."

Skills needed include "modifying and rebuilding the Linux kernel," "scripting in an administration languages such as Perl, any shell or C programming," configuration of Apache, PHP, MySQL and "at least one of the following virtualization technologies: KVM, Xen and VMware."

Other data center openings call for an SAP project managers, analysts and leads. Database architects require skills in the following.

  • RDBMS: Oracle, Teradata, MySQL, DB2;
  • NoSQL DB: Hadoop, HDFS, mongoDB, Cassandra;
  • Columnar DB: Vertica, SAP Hana.

When you digest these various job openings, Apple looks a lot like other enterprises---a big heterogeneous environment with a bit of everything. In some respects, Apple's environment isn't all that surprising. For starters, Apple has a massive supply chain and that typically means a lot of Oracle and SAP. Meanwhile, all those data warehouse items are related to the fact that Apple is a large retailer in its own right. Toss in a cloud service and the need for analytics and you even get a mention of SAP Hana in the job listings.

The big question here is what entities helped out with the Maiden data center integration. Accenture would be a likely candidate, but an outfit like Lockheed Martin or Unisys wouldn't be all that surprising either. Apple may have rolled its own data center without integration help. Rest assured, Apple's data center is a tightly managed affair. After all, iCloud can't be a rebranded MobileMe.

Now contrast this relatively secretive Apple environment with a large enterprise that's a bit more simple: Facebook.

In April, Facebook held a data center confessional. It launched the Open Compute Project that outlined its server designs---Facebook makes its own stripped down gear---and specs for everything from lighting to cooling.

The move was notable to watch for two reasons. First, companies don't cough up data center designs due to worries about competitive advantage. And then there's the reaction that Facebook's move received.

Webheads---folks that love scale---were giddy about Facebook's move. Enterprise insiders scoffed a bit and noted that Facebook's scale-up architecture makes sense for what it needs to do, but other businesses are more complicated.

Facebook's biggest requirement is uptime. Supply chain, retail store integration and all those things Apple needs to manufacture things are not needed in Facebook's world.

Now some of the backchannel chatter about Facebook may have been sour milk. No one wants to hear chest thumping over data center PUE ratings. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: "You can build servers and design them or get the products that the mass manufacturers put out. A lot of the stuff put out wasn’t in line with what we needed."

Now contrast Facebook's penchant for ditching vanity plastic with Apple's pictures of its data center. There's a lot of vanity plastic there. Can you imagine an aesthetics guru like Steve Jobs standing in front of Facebook's no-frills servers (right)?

Probably not. Fortunately, there are many ways to build data centers and meet objectives.

Topics: Apple, CXO, Data Centers, Hardware, Storage, Social Enterprise

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  • On cost, Apple will not compete with FB and Google datacenters.

    It is core and central to what both Google and FB do. Datacenters. Apple has slightly different needs but they will never compete on price for these massive installations. Apple has many competitive strengths in product design, software architectural design (iOS is light years ahead of Android in this regard) and consumer branding. Datacenters, however, is a weak area for Apple. They may design a great datacenter, but it will be at a 50%-100% price premium when compared to similar Google and FB designs.

    I was fascinated by FB's Open Compute project as it took a play straight from Google's playbook: find your competitors strength and open source the technology. Google ran their datacenters last quarter for a tad over $700,000,000 USD. Dude, that is impressive for as many datacenters Google has. Google's primary barrier against its competition is its ability to run its datacenters lots cheaper than its competition.

    I love FB's approach of no plastic flare. These things are not customer facing products and are under tight lock and key. Concentrate on the maintenance loop and power consumption. Keep the prices low. Teach your competitor's competitors to do the same.
    • RE: Tale of two data center strategies: Apple vs. Facebook

      @Bruizer Apple's needs are very different from Googles and FB. These are pure web companies which sell no devices. Apple does sell devices which come with 32 Gb or 64 Gb apiece. Most of the storage burden will continue to rest with these devices. Apple's cloud is just a way of marshalling the efforts of the devices it sells. Data is only temporarily stored on Apple's servers then swiftly deleted. Apple can do this bcs the data is permanently stored on its iOS devices. If necessary data can be reuploaded to the cloud. Thus apple's cloud is millions of ipods and iPads. It's a peer-to-peer cloud not a central leviathan like google.

      Consider editing a document. You edit it on one device and the latest version appears on another. The data travels to the cloud then onto the second device. But then apple can delete the version on the cloud to free up space. Apple sets a 5Gb limit per user. reality is likely to be closer to 5 Mb.
      The Star King
      • The iCloud will evolve, and it will retain data in the cloud,

        as well as in the customers' devices.<br><br>As Apple gathers more and more data, the Apple people will gain an appetite for analyzing and using that data, in a way that's not going to be much different from what Google and Facebook do. And, Apple may be left with no choice about saving the "customers' data", because, data that resides on a personal device can be erased and changed or gone (gone as in the case when a customer decides to go with another vendor for his gadgets and service). So, what you see right now, is not what you're going to get with Apple or even any company that offers "cloud-like" services.
      • Not how Apple's iCloud works.

        @The Star King

        iCloud stores a full copy including backups of devices.
      • RE: Tale of two data center strategies: Apple vs. Facebook

        @The Star King

        "Thus apple's cloud is millions of ipods and iPads. It's a peer-to-peer cloud not a central leviathan like google. "

        Probably not the case for MP3s which is a large portion of data.

        If you think about it, data is stored in iOS devices BUT not necessarily mirrored in the cloud iOS device per iOS device, i.e. if there are 1000 devices with say 3GB MP3s, the iCloud storage does not store 3,000 GB of data.

        Theoretically Apple only needs to store the universal set of MP3s and then associate a particular iOS device to that MP3 file number. This association doesn't need too much hard disk space, probably just 100 bytes of data per song/device. For 20,000 songs, thats just 2,000,000 bytes or 2MB of data/iOS device.

        So 2MB of data and NOT 3GB per iOS device.
      • @ a_yen: Music is a small part of iCloud.

        @The Star King

        It also includes device backups. For example: You walk in and see your 4 year old taking a hammer to your iPhone. Upon replacing with a new unit, the new unit will init from iCloud pulling in all Apps (those would be pointers to the Apps), music (also just pointers to a copy) and application data/contacts/stored books/documents/bookmarks... This could be in the GB depending on what you have up there.
      • RE: Tale of two data center strategies: Apple vs. Facebook

        @ Bruizer

        But the whole point of iCloud is each user has multiple devices (otherwise its useless). If my 4 year old destroys my iPhone, iCloud can upload all the data from my iPad which has been kept in sync. Or, it might upload from my PC which is another of my devices. given that PC or Mac counts as a device most people will own at least two devices which can be used to back up each other.

        What I'm saying is speculation but it would be crazy if Apple couldn't leverage some of the data on its iOS devices. If they are really going to store everything in the cloud, there's no need to sell iPhones with 64 Gb!
        The Star King
      • @ The Star King: you need a canonical copy.

        @The Star King

        And that is the cloud. Backup is one feature on iCloud. iCloud goes beyond having multiple devices but that is one important part.
      • Star King: An 64GB device sells for a lot more than one with less

        memory, and thus, Apple would be giving up a lot of revenue stream if they didn't make them available, even if it doesn't make sense to a user.
      • RE: Tale of two data center strategies: Apple vs. Facebook

        Don't know whether they they remove data. But looks promising. <a href="http://astoundcom.com/services/data-center-support/migration-services/">data center migration</a>
    • As a techie,

      @Bruizer ..."They may design a great datacenter, but it will be at a 50%-100% price premium when compared to similar Google and FB designs." I wonder how you, or anyone, could make that blunt statement. Do you have any doubt that Apple can afford to buy the top skillset needed for an optimal, cost-effective design? Do you have any doubt as to Apple's buying power, relative to other large datacenter owners? Give us a clue as to how you arrived at such a statement. Please.
      • Do what you do and do it best.

        @frabjous <br><br>And for Google and FB, that is datacenters.<br><br>We know iTunes runs a revenue of 3.75 billion/year. From that they pay developers, book and record labels a sizable chunk of about 2.45 billion or so leaving 1.3 billion/year for actual operations. Based on Tim Cook's and Openhiemer's statements, the iTMS runs just above break even.<br><br>So we have about $1.3 billion USD/year to run the iTMS store. It is a huge operation having sold 14 billion apps in 3 years and 15 billion songs in, what?, 7 years.<br><br>Google runs their datacenters for $2.8 billion/year and performs about 3 billion searches every day. Likewise, they serve nearly 3 billion videos served everyday for YouTube.<br><br>So both companies are major players in this field but my gut is telling me that Google's serves lots more bandwidth than Apple. 18 months ago, Google accounted to about 6% of the worlds internet traffic and Google Instant has sense multiplied that number. I seriously doubt Apple is even near that league.<br><br>This is not to say that Apple does this part of the business poorly but this is Google's core expertise. Likewise, it is FB's life blood. Those two companies really are top in that field.

        [edit for grammer]
  • Do they really expect one person to know all that?

    I suspect the use of Mac OS X is for the staff employees at the data center, not for actual Enterprise work.
    Mr. Dee
    • possible precursor, as well...

      could be for testing of the syncronization/etc... and it could be used for the early foundation work for if they offer the Mac OS desktop through the cloud.

      ...my money is on it being testing and admin staff (since remote access can be done from any system, I don't see the management PCs running windows, and desktop Linux is less likely compared to running the "easier" desktop OS)
  • Just out of curiosity

    Do we have any idea what MS runs? How do their servers work? Are they powering Bing and Live and Azure, etc., on Windows servers?
    x I'm tc
    • Microsoft is known to dog food their server products.


      It is what caused the Danger upgrade to be botched so badly. They had a great server system based on Linux and totally botched the transition to Windows based servers.
    • RE: Tale of two data center strategies: Apple vs. Facebook

      @jdakula I would think Microsoft is very well positioned in the Cloud infrastructurally. They have maybe the best PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) around 1.25 (Power going into the facilities vs power used in the computer) which means they have some leeway in their costs. Just by watching the picture of Apple (if it is an actual picture of their facilities) they aren't the same kind. If you see Microsoft's they completely segregate the hot air from the cool one, etc.
      Roque Mocan
  • RE: Tale of two data center strategies: Apple vs. Facebook

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