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20 billion Instagram photos were moved from right under your nose, did you notice?

Facebook migrated Instagram and 20 billion photos to a company-owned data center this spring, and it was done so quietly you probably hardly noticed.

Wired reports that the social network, which bought the photo-sharing platform in 2012, referred to the project as the “Instagration” and had a team of 8 engineers spend nearly a year planning the move, before it was expanded to a team of 20 for the month it took to actually execute.

Why did it take a year? Well, the process wasn’t easy. Instagram was run atop Amazon EC2, the cloud computing service that allows anyone to build and run software without their own servers.

In order to move Instagram into Facebook’s data center, the team of engineers had to move the 20 billion photos into Amazon’s Virtual Private Cloud, or VPC.

This allowed the team “to create a logical network that reached beyond Amazon into the Facebook data center,” writes Wired.

The migration was completed in April, but Facebook says it will keep Instagram’s user data separate to protect the privacy of Instagram users.

Wired writes that the move “was a way of more effectively plugging [Instagram] into a wide range of computing tools that have long helped drive Facebook’s vast online empire.”

It also improved efficiency.

Facebook now runs Instagram on one server for every three it used on the Amazon cloud, “obviously reducing our costs from when we had it on the Amazon platform,” Facebook infrastructure engineer Charlie Manese said.

Facebook is one of the few companies whose sheer size makes it possible (and really necessary) to undertake such a massive operation.

Adrian Cockcroft, who follows cloud computing at VC outfit Battery Ventures, told Wired, “If you get to be Facebook’s size, you want your own data centers.”

“It doesn’t make sense for most little companies,” he added.

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