The Database Problem Lurking Under Facebook and Skype

By Eric Lundquist  |  Posted 2011-07-08

PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 06: Facebook founder ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Facebook is a database with a great user interface on top. Skype is a database that authenticates users and shuffles calls around based on type. Of course all database engineers argue that every software application lives or dies by the underlying database. In this Web, social networking era, those engineers probably have it correct. 

Gigaom has a good article on Facebook's underlying reliance on MySQL. Even though I offer strong support for any database that originally came from my Viking homeland, scaling MySQL to Facebook size is going to involve lots of patches and waltzes into uncharted territory. The Gigaom article is mostly based on database pioneer's Mike Stonebraker's opinion. Stonebraker does have his own database to push, but he does know what he is talking about when you can pull him out of ACID compliance, memcached lingo. At some point, Facebook will have to overhaul its database or face the fate of many software as a service companies: very public crashes.

The Skype issue is different. Skype runs on PostgreSQL . PostgreSQL can scale big time, but it is also open source and a competitor to Microsoft's own SQL Server. Here is the question: "Can Microsoft accept that its biggest acquisition runs on a competitive product without starting to fiddle with the DB?" In this cloud era does anyone really know not only where your servers are, but what the DB engine runs on?"

So, Facebook is all about connections and sharing but is built on a database that certainly in my opinion was never meant to scale at the huge sizes now involved. Add in Skype running on PostgreSQL and you've got a database story that maybe only the nerds could love, but the public will judge in terms of response and uptime. 

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