SSDs boost Instagram's speed on Amazon EC2

The solid-state drives help Instagram deliver on its customers' demands for speed, a co-founder said

Instagram can drive data to its computing systems on Amazon.com's EC2 service 20 times as fast with solid-state drives, a co-founder of the photo-sharing service said on Thursday at the GigaOm Mobilize conference in San Francisco.

Rather than access data from networked hard disk drives, Instagram's server instances on EC2 can use directly connected solid-state disks, said Mike Krieger, a co-founder of the company that Facebook agreed to acquire in April for about US$1 billion. Instagram got trial access to solid-state drives on the EC2 cloud-computing platform before that option became generally available, one of the perks of being a large customer, Krieger said.

Enterprises are starting to embrace SSDs as a faster, more compact and less power-hungry alternative to spinning disks, though the hardware still costs more per gigabyte. Web 2.0 services such as Instagram have been early adopters of the technology.

Krieger would not estimate how much data Instagram maintains, but he said users have uploaded about 5 billion images to the service.

Instagram turned to EC2 early in its life in order to deal with rapid growth. It had launched with just one rented server in Los Angeles, Krieger said.

"We planned very poorly in the beginning," Krieger said. Other tech startups based near its San Francisco headquarters recommended using EC2 for flexibility in infrastructure, and Instagram has been happy with the service ever since, he said.

Krieger said even though the company now has more than 100 million users, he is still one of just three people maintaining its infrastructure. The company learned early on not to needlessly duplicate the work of others but instead build on it. For a startup, that can mean not building their own storage, computing systems, or user interface components.

"A big part of that is figuring out what you want your company to be good at," Krieger said. In Instagram's case, that was speed. It figured out that users would want to use its app during short breaks such as waiting for a bus, and made it capable of uploading their photos and displaying others' images very quickly, he said.

"You're filling in gaps in these peoples' lives," Krieger said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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