Meta is tapping AWS for its cloud expansion and AI collaboration

Well, presumably it has to put all those metaverse acquisitions somewhere.

Meta's data center in Los Lunas, New Mexico.

Meta built an impressive array of its own data centers over the last decade, but now plans to use AWS more in the future.

Image: Meta

The company formerly known as Facebook built an impressive array of computing infrastructure over the last decade. Over the next 10 years, it plans to also draw on the cloud.

Meta has selected AWS as its “long-term strategic cloud provider,” the two companies plan to announce Wednesday at AWS re:Invent 2021. A big portion of the partnership involves additional co-development work to help AWS customers run Facebook’s Pytorch machine-learning framework more effectively, but Meta will also use AWS for future acquisitions that already run on the cloud infrastructure leader’s servers, rather than moving those applications to Facebook’s own data centers.

“Meta uses AWS’s proven infrastructure and comprehensive capabilities to complement its existing on-premises infrastructure, and will broaden its use of AWS compute, storage, databases, and security services to provide privacy, reliability, and scale in the cloud,” the companies said in a press release. They declined to offer more details about their agreement prior to the announcement, but the deal notably does not designate AWS as Meta’s “preferred” cloud provider, which suggests Meta could be looking at a broader cloud strategy over the next few years.

Facebook was founded before AWS formally launched in 2006, and grew the old-fashioned way, building its own network of servers and storage equipment in leased data centers. In 2010, it announced plans to build its first self-managed data center facility just outside Prineville in Oregon’s high desert country, and since then has built 18 data centers around the world to service its nearly 3 billion monthly active users.

Those data centers are considered on par with the ones run by the Big Three cloud providers, and Facebook has an excellent reputation in the data-center community thanks to its support of the Open Compute Project. Founded by Facebook and other partners, the OCP operates as an open-source hardware foundation, giving away design secrets and operational best practices to the broader data-center operator community.

But it’s getting harder to find companies that don’t have a cloud strategy to some extent, especially companies in acquisition mode. Startups built in the last decade almost exclusively grew up around cloud-computing providers, and AWS is by far the largest company in that category.

The deal is a coup for AWS, which seems unlikely to get into the metaverse competition to the same extent that Microsoft has pledged to do. While the core applications that run Facebook are likely tuned to Meta’s own infrastructure to such an extent that it wouldn’t make sense to rearchitect them for the cloud, that’s not necessarily true of the companies that Meta will acquire to build out its metaverse ambitions, whatever those actually are.

The partnership throws a little cold water on a historically popular re:Invent cocktail conversation regarding whether Facebook would ever plan on getting into the cloud services business, given that few companies have built and operated data-center infrastructure at Facebook’s scale.

Presumably Meta also negotiated a pretty good deal: Mark Zuckerberg made headlines in 2019 complaining about the costs of running the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative on AWS.


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