‘Fail whale’ forces hasty Twitter data center move

By Reuters
Posted April 4 at 9:45 a.m.

An ambitious plan to prevent “Fail Whales,” the cartoon icon that greets frustrated Twitter users during network outages, turned into a fail whale of its own.

A new, custom-built facility in Utah to house computers that power the popular messaging service by the end of 2010 has been plagued with everything from leaky roofs to insufficient power capacity, people familiar with the plans told Reuters.

The botched move threatened product development and forced Twitter — whose user accounts have burgeoned to 200 million in just five years — to seek another location despite committing significant investment to the facility.

The data center move reflects growing pains faced by red hot tech start-ups as they aim to justify soaring valuations and transform into reliable channels for advertising and commerce.

Twitter said last month its data center had moved to a new home at an undisclosed location — a feat that industry insiders say is impressive by any measure.

People familiar with the matter said the move was to an existing Sacramento, Calif., facility more than 600 miles away, owned by co-location company Raging Wire, rather than into the custom-builtĀ  center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Twitter had signed a $24 million, four-year minimum commitment lease with C7 Data Centers, which was building the Utah center. It was not immediately clear how much, if any, of the fees would be returned or if it planned to pay out the full term of the contract.

Those plans “spiraled out of control,” one source said. “They were in over their heads and they did not recognize that until far too late.”

Twitter declined to comment about its data centers or finances. Twitter Vice President of Engineering Michael Abbott said the company has done more to upgrade its infrastructure in the last six months than it did in the previous 4 1/2.

“Twitter now has the team and infrastructure in place to capitalize on the tremendous interest in Twitter and continue our record growth,” Abbott said in an email.

Large Internet companies such as Google Inc and Yahoo Inc. spend anywhere from $50 million to $2.5 billion to construct and equip such data centers, according to Forrester Research analyst James Staten.

In December, Twitter was valued at $3.7 billion in a $200 million funding round led by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. An auction of Twitter shares on the secondary market last month suggested investors were valuing the company at more than $7 billion.

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