Facebook has taught its fair share of lessons since taking over the world social media space in 2009, from "you quit talking to people from high school for a reason" to "don't pass out at a party". From a business innovation perspective, however, it's been a run-of-the-mill organization for the most part. It's business strategy of offering a free service so that it can turn around and market the users and their data to advertisers was well beaten by tech giants before it and television and radio long before the Internet even existed.

That's about to change, however. As discussed in a BusinessWeek article regarding Facebook's mid-year reports, the social network spent $606 million in the first six months on capital expenditures -- largely data centers and the servers they contain. That's $350 million less than the company spent over the same period of last year, a savings they've accomplished while 1) continuing to grow and 2) actually making money (the article states they showed strong earnings in the mobile space).

So how are they buying enough equipment to keep up with growth and increased user demand -- Facebook is reportedly adding several petabytes of data capability per day -- while spending less? It turns out, they have a really good plan for this. Key elements of the plan?

Build Big - Facebook operates three data centers -- two in the U.S. and one in Sweden -- and is soon to open a fourth in Iowa. These centers are designed with growth in mind, as the Swedish facility is only at half capacity right now. The other half is barren.

Don't Pay For Things You Don't Need - Facebook has its servers, switches, and storage devices specially built in Asia, avoiding the big names like Dell & HP (and the unneeded markup that comes with them). This equipment is also built with only the components needed for their operation, eliminating costly (and mostly superfluous) items normally found on general-purpose equipment.

Modular Design - The specially built equipment is completely modular, meaning the company can scale practically on-demand. The BusinessWeek article mentions that the server/storage/switch arrays arrive to facilities pre-assembled in refrigerator-sized units. Using the Swedish facility as an example, the article notes that, upon a servers arrival, a team of three workers can have the equipment unpacked and functional within a span of minutes.

Not impressed? Consider how long it takes the average organization to adapt to a new coffee machine in the break room.

Who knew Facebook could teach you anything other than "all my friends' children are ugly"?
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Nicholas Hamner

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