The Twitter logo before an ominous door.

Twitter Data Center Secrecy: I Never Understood It

This post starts the first of many upcoming articles about my experience working in the Twitter data center in Atlanta, GA from 2017 to 2020. The company ran their data centers in some regards normally, but in other areas totally weird. And one of those weird things revolved around Twitter data center secrecy. The company’s management didn’t want anyone to know the locations of the data centers, including their own employees. I never understood this line of thinking but I’ll explain why management held this notion.

Twitter Data Center Secrecy: Born From Threats

From what my manager told me when I started at the company in 2017 the reason for the Twitter data center secrecy came from threats from the Taliban.

I can’t find the articles now but it appears Twitter ran afoul of the Taliban years ago by removing some of their tweets or allowing other “offensive” tweets to go unchecked on the platform. In turn, the Taliban threatened Twitter and various employees. It appears some of those threats could have been specific and go after certain employees (probably the executive leadership) at specific offices. Unfortunately, I never got all the details and Google search isn’t helping.

It appears the management worried about the data centers because they are integral to the platform running. And there is another reason to worry about these locations…

Twitter Data Center Secrecy: The Company Leases Space

The other reason to worry about the data centers because Twitter leases space in data centers owned by other companies. I won’t specify which companies but it’s easy to find out by searching online.

The reason Twitter chose this route because building out and running a data center is expensive! These buildings need a large plot of land because of their size. In addition, they will need access to a large amount of resources like electricity and water. Finally, the staff to run and maintain these buildings are expensive. Not only will the company need technicians to diagnose and repairs servers, but facilities members to troubleshoot and repair heating and cooling machines along with other parts of the building.

Also, Twitter wasn’t big enough to have their own data center buildings like Google or Microsoft. So it made sense for them to lease space from other companies. This is probably the reason why employees didn’t know about the data centers. Speaking of which…

Even The Employees Were In The Dark

Oh yes, Twitter employees, some with long tenures, didn’t know Twitter had three data centers in America. (Now the company has two.) I talked to other employees across the world and when I told them I worked in the Atlanta, GA data center I always got this question: “Twitter has a data center?”

I joked with my coworkers probably Jack Dorsey (Twitter’s then CEO during my time at the company) probably didn’t know about the data centers. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Most of the employees thought Twitter ran in “The Cloud.” And that was partially true. The company have a private cloud (Mesos) and used Google Cloud and AWS for some instances. As of today the latter is no longer true.

I Helped Give The Data Centers Visibility

All right, I need to toot my own horn for a minute because I did help bring visibility to the data centers with my presentation at the annual company meeting. “The Life of a Site Operations Technician” gave an overview of what us workers did everyday through slides and video. They got to see what we did to diagnose and repair servers. I took videos as myself and other employees walked around doing their jobs. And the employees loved it! There was standing-room only in the room because it was such a hit!

This presentation became a training class I presented occasionally remotely to employees. That was cool too.

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[…] 2017 and worked there until December 2020. Since most of the employees from Twitter 1.0 departed, including the management who wanted to keep the data centers a secret, now I can write about my time […]

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