On Oct 5-6, 2017, Facebook welcomed some of the world’s top systems and networking university faculty to our third Networking and Systems Faculty Summit at Facebook’s new Fort Worth Data Center. During this two-day summit, Facebook shared some of the unique computational, data, and networking challenges of managing the infrastructure for two billion active monthly users, with the goal of strengthening relationships with the research community in these areas. Attendees were also the first researchers to tour the state-of-the-art data center in Fort Worth, which is powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
Open collaboration leads to new breakthroughs
Facebook continually collaborates with academics at leading universities to solve unique challenges. James Zeng, an engineering manager and research scientist on Net Systems within the Facebook Infrastructure team, explains that the ties between Facebook and the academic community are strong and benefit both Facebook and the university researchers.
“We believe the most interesting and impactful research questions come from real-world challenges. We openly share our challenges and strategies based on what we learn with our production systems,” says Zeng. “When we share our real-world experiences serving globally-reaching applications and services with universities, then the broader community can learn from these challenges.”
Facebook’s global infrastructure
Facebook currently has eleven data center regions around the world. The scale and rate of growth can bring new challenges. Facebook continues to collaborate with those in the academy to solve challenges around speed, scale, growth, reliability and energy use. On the benefits of working with academia, Zeng explains that “There are a lot of new ideas in academia. They bring in new perspectives and can think about questions in a more holistic way.”
The Facebook Infrastructure team has to both plan long-term and adapt quickly in order to support the product teams. “We sometimes have very short notice on new product development,” Zeng says. “For example, Facebook Live was rolled out globally in a very short time period. Adapting our infrastructure to support this new product required innovation and fast execution across dozens of infrastructure teams, including the networking and systems teams.”
Further, Facebook’s data centers can house hundreds of thousands of servers with potentially exabytes of data. “When designing systems, we always need to be looking ahead and thinking about scalability and anticipating future product needs,” explains Zeng. “We find that this mindset and approach aligns well with the goals of research universities.”
Teaming with academia
A recent example of collaboration between Facebook and academia was with researchers at the University of Southern California, working together on the Edge Fabric project. The limitations of the Internet’s over-20-year-old Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) make it challenging to achieve reliable, fast connections. USC researchers worked on this project with the Facebook team to help make it faster, more efficient, and more flexible.
This year’s Networking and Systems Faculty Summit is an exciting opportunity to share challenges and research, and spark new collaborations to spur the next wave of innovation. “We’ve found that new ideas, solutions and initiatives come from this open approach,” Zeng says. “By sharing our experiences, we want to make Facebook and the entire industry better.”
In addition to our faculty summits and ongoing collaborations with academia, Facebook also awards Fellowships and Emerging Scholar awards to promising PhD students. For more information on these and other academics programs, please visit https://research.fb.com.