Why Moving Instagram to Facebook’s Data Center Was Worth It

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Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has quietly migrated Instagram and its 20 billion photos from Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) cloud computing service to its own data center. The transition took about a year in planning and a month for the actual migration, and Instagram’s 200 million users didn’t notice a thing.

Wired reports that the company calls the transition the “Instagration,” and the migration was unlike any that Facebook had previously undertaken. In moving other properties that it had acquired, like FriendFeed, Facebook was able to shut down the service before migrating it to its own data centers.

But moving Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012, was a much bigger operation. The process involved moving the service from thousands of virtual machines on Amazon’s cloud computing service, where it was originally built, to a private data center operated by Facebook, all while avoiding disruptions to a service used by 200 million people. According to Wired, the move gives Instagram access to the wide range of software tools built into Facebook’s infrastructure.

The migration sets the precedent for the potential integrations of apps and services that Facebook may acquire in the future. In simple terms, the Instagration was made possible by an Amazon service called the Virtual Private Cloud, which enabled a 20-person team to effectively make a copy of Instagram’s underlying software at the Facebook data center. Once that copy was in place, the team was able to use a private network that included the entire data center, plus the Instagram operation on Amazon’s cloud, to securely transfer the data.