At the start of 2011, investment in social networking site Facebook valued it at $50bn - more than eBay and Time Warner.
Within six years, Facebook has attracted 500 million members and was hailed the fastest growing company in the world.
Facebook now wants to share the innovations in one of its datacentres with the rest of the industry through its Open Compute Project. The project aims to showcase how Facebook scales its computing infrastructure in the most efficient and economical way possible.
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Strong IT focus
As you would expect, at Facebook there is a strong focus on IT. It could be argued that CIO Tim Campos embodies the new approach to CIO-level management, having moved from techie through an MBA degree to drive IT innovation in one of the world's hottest IT businesses.
"The role of IT and how you do your job is usually operational and about efficiency and cost saving. Facebook is quite frugal, but there is so much more emphasis on innovation. It is not just about the squeeze," says Campos in an interview with Computer Weekly.
"The company became an enterprise in the cloud computing age so the architecture is different [from a traditional IT department]."
The difference, according to Campos, is that there is a greater emphasis on the application of technology rather than the set-up.
The economics of cloud computing are ever-present at Facebook. "We are a SaaS [software-as-a-service] environment with not much on-premise. The scaling is easier so I do not worry about having to double up," he says.
"We have social media embedded into the information system. Everything is integrated on Facebook. We even have a recruiting system based on profiles with integrated resumes. We also use Facebook groups and tools built on Facebook to help the team collaborate," he adds.
Campos looks after the social networking site's internal IT systems for over 2,000 employees. He manages a 65-strong IT team, which represents just 3% of the total workforce. He has worked for the social network since August 2010 and says managing Facebook's IT department is not without its challenges.
Around 65% of Facebook's IT environment is Apple Macintosh-based. "From an IT perspective, that is more of a challenge because it is a hybrid environment," he says. "[Microsoft] Exchange does not work very well with the Mac. But users love the Mac."
Campos started his career in engineering and initially resisted accepting a CIO role. He did an electrical engineering and computer science degree course at the University of California in Berkeley and started his career at Sybase as an intern while still studying.
"The internship was fairly mundane, but paid three times more than my friends' jobs working in bars. I was able to make my mark. The job was auditing and writing bug fixes. I automated it and took it from a day's work down to two hours.
"It gave me some time to have fun, but when my boss figured out what I had done he gave me more to do until I was doing the work of a full-time engineer."
Campos moved to an engineering role at Silicon Graphics, before joining internet start-up Portera Systems. At the age of 32 he became the youngest CIO of a Fortune 500 company at KLA-Tencor. He believes his technical experience in engineering as well as general management have made him successful in his ability to make a business tie.
"The line between engineering and technology is blurry. When the CIO asked me to help out with problems, I initially resisted, but he gave me an offer I could not refuse so I said I would help until the end of the summer. I fell in love with it and the type of problems it involved," he says.
"I learned that IT is more business-focused than engineering. IT is not just how to make technology work, but how to do it to produce a business result and how to translate business into technical strategy."
After studying for a MBA, Campos looked to start-ups to continue his career. But when Facebook came up, he saw it as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity".
Future of the CIO role
For Campos, IT is evolving into a chief operating officer role. "The new type of leader must be more business-focused. The CIO is becoming like the COO. The CIO is becoming irrelevant in some organisations and more business-focused."
Facebook needs to evolve as the internet continues to grow. "The technology used for the internet is only starting. We are on the social wave, which is giving meaning to all the internet connections. We have several waves of innovation to come. Cloud computing is one of them."
The company is beginning to move to greater openness. This goes even as far as an open-plan office. The Facebook office culture is also in keeping with the openness of its infrastructure. "No-one has an office - and I mean, no-one. Mark Zuckerberg just has a desk. It is very open and very conducive for collaboration."
Given its global reach and the homage Hollywood has paid to Facebook in the film The Social Network, IT has never been so glamorous.
|Facebook launches project to 'open source' its datacentre|
In the spirit of open source software, Facebook says it wants to share the innovations in one of its datacentres with the rest of the industry in its Open Compute Project.
The social networking company claims it has built its first datacentre from the ground up, which uses 38% less energy and costs 24% less than its other datacentres.
"Opening the technology means the community will make advances that we wouldn't have discovered if we had kept it secret," said the company.
Facebook is publishing specifications and mechanical designs for the hardware used in the datacentre, including motherboards, power supply, server chassis, server rack, and battery cabinets. In addition, it will share its electrical and mechanical construction specifications.
Lanham Napier, CEO at Rackspace, says he enthusiastically supports the Open Compute Project. "The Rackspace team has visited and studied Facebook's next-generation datacentre, our engineers continue to collaborate, and we look forward to optimising Openstack for Open Compute," he said.