Behind The Curtain With Google’s “Secret Servers”

For all the uber-geeks and electrical engineers, CNET offers an interesting story about Google’s approach to servers. From the very early days Google was thinking carefully about scale, efficiency but perhaps mostabout cost savings. Rather than buy servers, Google has built them from the beginning. Google finally revealed one of its home-made servers before an audience on Wednesday. According to the article:

Google’s big surprise: each server has its own 12-volt battery to supply power if there’s a problem with the main source of electricity. The company also revealed for the first time that since 2005, its data centers have been composed of standard shipping containers–each with 1,160 servers and a power consumption that can reach 250 kilowatts . . .

Overall, Google’s choices have been driven by a broad analysis on cost that encompasses software, hardware, and facilities.

“Early on, there was an emphasis on the dollar per (search) query,” [Google's vice president of operations, Urs] Hoelzle said. “We were forced to focus. Revenue per query is very low.”

Mainstream servers with x86 processors were the only option, he added. “Ten years ago…it was clear the only way to make (search) work as free product was to run on relatively cheap hardware. You can’t run it on a mainframe. The margins just don’t work out,” he said.

The article goes into more details of the history and strategy behind Google’s infrastructure as well as additional technical information. Google’s hardware infrastructure has long been considered one of its competitive advantages. The extent to which this novel approach to server development and deployment was created by the pressure of little or no revenue shows how innovation often emerges from circumstances of limited resources.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Business Issues | Google: General | Google: Offices | Google: Other

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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