Instagram’s Speed on Amazon EC2 Improved With the Help of SSDs

According to a co-founder of Instagram on Thursday at the GigaOm Mobilize conference in San Francisco, the now-popular photo-sharing service can transfer data to its computing system on Amazon.com’s EC2 sevice 20 times as fast with solid-state drives.

Instead of using the old method to access data from networked hard disk drives, Instagram’s server instances now can use the connected solid-state disks directly. Since Instagram is a large customer of Amazon, it got trial access to solid-state drives on the EC2 cloud-computing platform even before the option became generally available.

Even though solid-state drives still cost more per gigabyte than their hard disk counterparts, enterprises are starting to embrace SSDs for their advantages of being faster, more compact and durable and less power-hungry than the spinning disks. And Instagram and many other web 2.0 services hae been early adopters of the technology.

Mike Krieger, a co-founder of the company that Facebook agreed to acquire in April for about US$1 billion, said that users of Instagram have uploaded about 5 billion images to the service, although he would not estimate how much data Instagram is maintaining. 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.

Also according to Krieger, even though the total amount of users of Instagram has exceeded 100 million, there are only three people (including Krieger) 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 the data uploading 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.

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