Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Real Power Behind the Curtain (WhatsApp Edition)?

By now, you probably heard all about Facebook's $16B acquisition of WhatsApp. To put that in perspective, that is more than the total GDP of hundreds countries such as the likes of Iceland and ~30% the market cap of GM or ~10% that of Facebook itself. Consider how it was just a few years ago when Oracle bought the former behemoth Sun Microsystems (whose former campus is now Facebook's) for $7.4B in 2010. An interesting tidbit is behind the curtain is a modern, low-latency messaging backend powered by Erlang, a functional language optimized for concurrency and availability, which originally gained a following in the telecom community, especially from the likes of Ericsson. This is what ultimately powers the slick, reliable user experience of the messaging system that serves hundreds of millions around the world. Rick Reed, one of the engineers at Whatsapp, gave a talk on the use of Erlang at Whatsapp. One specialty of Erlang, which is also used by Facebook itself, is hot sliding, a kind of on-the-fly code module loading to enabling updating a system and pushing code without ever taking the system down.