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Facebook to put old, rarely viewed photos into 'cold storage'

Duane Hoffman / NBC News

If a photo is on Facebook and no one looks at it, was it ever even uploaded?

Poor attempt at a joke aside, there's something with which we need to come to terms: There are a lot of photos on Facebook that just sit around, taking up precious data storage space. The social network can't exactly delete these photos just because no one's looking, but it can store them in a more cost-effective and energy-efficient way.

According to the Oregonian's Mike Rogoway, Facebook's testing moving what he describes as "archival posts that people don’t need every day" into cold storagein the social network's data center in Prineville, Oregon.

As fun as it might be to imagine a gigantic meatlocker full of servers, cold storage refers to a data center in which most of the computers are asleep, with a few keeping watch — and able to wake the others — for incoming requests to view older items. Compare that to a hot storage data center in which all the computers are wide-awake and ready to show you the information you request almost instantly. (Of course, the difference in the time it takes to grab something from cold storage versus the time it takes to grab something from hot storage is so slight that a typical user could never even tell the difference. Think second or millisecond delays, rather than anything more dramatic.)

Facebook says, according to Rogoway, that "82 percent of its traffic is focused on just 8 percent of its photos." Given that detail, it's not exactly tough to understand why the company's considering cold storage data centers — especially since they will cost the social network about a third less than standard data centers, offer eight times more storage, and run five times more energy efficiently.

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