Behind the Scenes: MySpace Technology
In 2005, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought Intermix Media, the company that had controlling interest in MySpace, for $580 million. Most analysts think that what Murdoch was really interested in buying was MySpace. With more than 15 billion page views per month (in January 2006 by Alexa's count) and millions of digital-media-gobbling young people in rapt attention, MySpace is a potential-consumer windfall. It's also a major technological undertaking.
The MySpace technology setup looks roughly like this:
- Domain name servers: When you type www.myspace.com into your browser bar, you're requesting the IP address for MySpace.com from a domain name server (or DNS -- see How Domain Name Servers Work to learn more). Instead of owning and maintaining its own DNS servers, MySpace uses a "Managed DNS" service called UltraDNS. UltraDNS basically handles user IP requests through a huge network of servers, distributing the load based on which servers are available at any given time. This system cuts down on congestion, resulting in fewer slowdowns and DNS errors for users at peak access times.
- Proxy servers: Proxy servers sit between a user computer and MySpace's main servers. They deliver cached content to users to limit redundant requests to MySpace's application servers. Enabling content caching at this level cuts down on congestion.
- Application servers: For applications like e-mail, instant messaging and blogging, MySpace uses BlueDragon.NET software running CFML (ColdFusion Markup Language) code on Microsoft-IIS servers.
- Database: MySpace has a 20-terabyte (TB), scalable cluster of Isilon IQ 1920i servers. (A terabyte is 1 trillion bytes.) The cluster stores users' uploaded media files (images, videos, songs), among other things. It runs on 3.2-GHz Intel Xeon processors and has 10 server nodes storing 1.92 TB each. The nodes communicate on the InfiniBand architecture, which establishes point-to-point, serial connections between each server node. Isilon reports that data-transfer speeds are in the neighborhood of 3 GBps.
- Back-end: MySpace's back-end is an InfiniBand server switch. A server switch facilitates communication between multiple severs on multiple platforms -- in this case, between all of the servers in the MySpace infrastructure and between the MySpace servers and the external servers that deliver content to the end user. The Equinix Exchange central server switch in Los Angeles hosts MySpace's content delivery. Equinix Exchange is an Ethernet-based peering service that connects MySpace to all of the top-tier Internet backbones through a single hub -- a "fabric" of server switches connecting all Equinix networks. Content travels from MySpace through any of the Equinix-connected networks based on the most efficient route to the user and the available bandwidth on a network at any given time.
The setup seems to focus on maximum efficiency and load-distribution to minimize downtime and delays. It's not perfect: Alexa ranks it in the bottom 25 percent of Web sites by speed as of February 2006, and the author received quite a few error messages while trying to navigate MySpace to gather information. But MySpace has more traffic than Google and a lot less capital (at least before Murdoch stepped in), and speedy, round-the-clock content delivery to millions of users simultaneously requires a lot of cash. The two largest infusions of capital happened in 2003, when MySpace received an undisclosed amount of funding from Intermix Media (which bought 53 percent of MySpace), and in 2005, when MySpace got $11.5 million through an agreement between Intermix and Redpoint Ventures (which bought Redpoint's 25 percent of MySpace). After the purchase by News Corp., MySpace presumably will be able to buy a lot more toys to increase its speed and accessibility.
As for revenue generators that don't cost stock, MySpace currently has just one: advertising. It's advertiser heaven. MySpace's core user profile -- Web-surfing 16- to 25-year-olds -- is the most desirable advertising demographic out there. According to Alexa, MySpace reached a peak 16 billion page views in January 2006 -- that's a lot of ad impressions. Estimates have the company taking in $30 to $40 million in ad revenue in 2005.
Now, let's check out the Web site. The author's dog, Ellie, would like to create a MySpace profile and expand her social network.