Large scale web-services such as Facebook need thousands of servers to manage the flow of updates that are sent out by their millions of users. As a result, keeping all these servers updated with the latest code can be time and resource intensive.
According to Tom Cook of Facebook’s systems engineering group, the daily code updates for Facebook used to cause a lot of trouble until they discovered BitTorrent. Cook gave a talk at the Velocity Conference this week titled ‘A Day in the Life of Facebook Operations’ where he explained how effective BitTorrent is for server deployment.
“BitTorrent is fantastic for this, it’s really great,” Cook said. “It’s ‘superduper’ fast and it allows us to alleviate a lot of scaling concerns we’ve had in the past, where it took forever to get code to the webservers before you could even boot it up and run it.”
With their BitTorrent-powered distribution system Facebook is now able to send a few hundred MB to tens of thousands of machines in just one minute. The internal Facebook swarm turns every server into a peer that helps in distributing the new code, which gets it updated as quickly as possible. Without BitTorrent this process could take several hours to complete.
Facebook is not the only large web-service that uses BitTorrent to keep its servers updated. Earlier this year we reported that Twitter is doing the same. Twitter’s implementation, codenamed ‘Murder’, is based on the BitTornado BitTorrent client. The code is open to the public and licensed under the free software Apache License.
Besides these social networking sites, several universities have been successfully using BitTorrent-powered systems to update their computers for quite some time already. A Dutch university reported that it retired 20 of the 22 servers it used to send out updates to workstations, saving not only time but also money.
It’s beginning to look like BitTorrent may become the standard for large scale networks that want to update their machines quickly and efficiently. With huge brands such as Facebook and Twitter adopting it, we can only expect that others will follow their lead.
Right now digital films are still shipped out on physical harddisk, which is an awfully slow and expensive process. Perhaps movie theaters should look into BitTorrent as well. That way the movie industry could actually benefit from BitTorrent, instead of complaining about it.