Twitter and Facebook Expand Data Centers. Should You?

Two of the biggest social networking services in the world announced they were expanding their data centers this week. They are doing it to stay ahead of demand and keep their apps running smoothly. Should you be doing this too?

Twitter is increasing their server capacity to keep up with its growing user base which recently passed the 100 million mark, while Facebook is building more in anticipation of greater need due to its new Timeline feature announced yesterday at the Facebook F8 developer’s conference.

Now you may be wondering what services like these have to do with your data center and monitoring responsibilities, but the fact is, this expansion is about staying ahead of end user expectations. Instead of waiting for the system to overload, these companies are proactively expanding their server capacity —  and it may be something you want to pay attention to.

In the early days of Twitter, it might have been better know for its infamous fail whale than the service itself. Twitter displayed the fail whale whenever their servers were over capacity, something that happened with annoying frequency because they obviously didn’t have enough capacity to accomodate traffic spikes. As a user of the system, it was down-right annoying, and as Twitter became a more critical social media channel, it began to have an impact on members’ ability to conduct business.

After a while, when the Fail Whale showed up, it wasn’t cute or funny anymore because it meant users couldn’t communicate with a whole group of people they had grown accustomed to having instant access to. In that sense, as a more critical business application, it has more in common with your IT shop than you might have thought.

And that’s what you want to focus on. Your users are counting on your business applications to stay up and running too, and as such, you don’t want your data center to fall behind demand. Obviously your company probably doesn’t have the IT budgets that Twitter and Facebook likely have, so there are limits to what you can do, but you should always be monitoring your servers to be sure that pure capacity is not a bottleneck for your end users, and you should be looking for ways to increase that capacity if demand requires it — just as popular services like Facebook and Twitter are constantly doing.

Like Twitter and Facebook users, your users expect to be able to turn on their machine, access their app and get to work (or play as the case may be with social media). The point is that the expectations remain the same and  you need to be prepared — even if you measure users in the thousands instead of millions or hundreds of millions like Facebook and Twitter.

Image by Bull3t on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

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