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Facebook reveals plan to WIRE THE PLANET

Do as we do in the data centre to serve the unconnected masses … bitch

 photo by kudomomo

Facebook and fellow members Qualcomm and Ericsson have released a white paper that offers a blueprint for a massively scaled-up internet.

Titled “A Focus on Efficiency” and available here as a PDF, the paper's premise is that members want to make sure the five billion folks currently offline get the chance to access the internet in coming years, but that “the current global cost of delivering data is on the order of 100 times too expensive for this to be economically feasible”.

To fix that up, the paper says we need to reduce the “underlying costs of delivering data” and use less data “by building more efficient apps”.

The paper says the first challenge can be addressed if everyone builds data centres just like Facebook's, which means using outside air for cooling, adopting the tenets of the Open Compute project and adopting projects like the Group Hug modular servers plan.

The paper also suggests wiser uses of networks, explaining that Facebook has adopted the WebP image format and uses it wherever possible because it produces images that require less storage space, and therefore less bandwidth, than older formats. Promoting adoption of WebP and other such formats is suggested as a way to improve online services.

But the paper squibs it on issues such as the chattiness of current dominant networking protocols, which consume a lot of resources. Instead it focuses on how Facebook works to build better client applications, especially on Android.

The descriptions of those efforts are often interesting, such as the one below explaining how Facebook has tackled battery life issues:

The high cost of waking a phone’s radio to fetch data comes from network inactivity timers on the device. These timers keep the radio in high energy state for fixed period of time regardless of the size of data packets to be transferred. Also, these timers vary by network operators. Thus, the same phone can have very different impact on battery performance across different network operators. Consequently, it is critical to wake the radio as seldom as possible and send as much network traffic each time as possible, while maintaining the feeling of freshness and recency in the UI. One way we’ve tackled this is by pre-fetching multiple images at a time that your friends have posted instead of waking up the radio separately for each image fetch.

The paper then trails off into thinly veiled promotions for Qualcomm and Ericsson before concluding that if we all work together we really can scale this internet thing to all the deserving folks who need it without burning up the planet feeding data centres. ®

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