Facebook designing network fabric to meet massive performance needs

The company is developing new technologies to feed its insatiable need for data bandwidth

By , IDG News Service |  Networking

Aside from that, Parikh said Wednesday, Facebook is developing a network "fabric" that is, in effect, the company's own take on software-defined networking. SDN refers to a set of technologies that, among other things, could shift control in networks out of specialized switches and routers and into software that can run on a variety of standard hardware.

For Facebook, the new fabric should mean lower operating costs and the ability to deliver new services more quickly. For end users, it should mean better services that operate more quickly, Parikh said.

Networks traditionally use a three-layer hierarchy that was designed primarily to pull data from storage systems, up through servers and out to end users. Facebook wants a "flatter" architecture that's better suited to moving data from machine to machine, Ahmad said.

"If you can build a fabric where every cabinet, every rack, is at the same level, where the connectivity between any two racks is uniform, then you have a better chance of managing the apps, and the construct becomes more logical than the physical, hierarchical-based systems that we have today," he said.

The software layer will allow Facebook to add more functionality to the network more quickly. Today, innovation in Facebook's applications is happening much more quickly than innovation in the network, Ahmad said. "There's a huge mismatch there. How can we make the network development happen much faster? That's what SDN brings."

Like Google, Facebook is also working to improve its connectivity outside the data center, by investing in the massive fiber-optic cables that carry Internet traffic between countries. It's invested in the Asia Pacific Gateway undersea cable and in a "fiber loop" that connects a data center in Sweden with other parts of Europe, Parikh said.

More than four out of five Facebook users are outside the U.S., and operating its own network can reduce costs for Facebook and allow it to increase network capacity in markets much more quickly when demand there increases. "We're talking about bringing up capacity in seconds or minutes rather than weeks or months it takes today," Ahmad said.

Facebook isn't the only online company developing new technologies to support the unique types of services it delivers. Google is well known for designing its own server hardware, to make its data centers more energy-efficient, and it developed the MapReduce software for analyzing massive data sets that eventually formed the basis for Hadoop.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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