Google, IBM Team on Data Center Research

Google (GOOG) and IBM are teaming up to build large data centers to power a grid computing initiative for research universities.

Google (GOOG) and IBM are teaming up to build large data centers to power a grid computing initiative for research universities. The project will be announced today, according to the New York Times. The effort will provide a platform to help computer science students at research universities develop for "cloud computing" applications hosted by large data centers.

The Times says Google is building a data center at an undisclosed location (naturally) that will "contain more than 1,600 processors by the end of the year." IBM is also building a data center for the project. The two companies have committed $30 million over two years for the project. That dollar figure, along with the number of processors, suggests that these initially won't be huge data centers in square footage. The Wall Street Journal (subscription) says the initiative will start with 400 computers and eventually expand to 4,000 computers, which require a larger footprint.

The initiative highlights the growing importance of the data center as a development platform for scalable web-based software. While the universities will see the immediate benefits, the project also figures to advance the business interests of Google and IBM, both prominent backers of open source software. Cloud computing services are a major focus for Microsoft, and the new research consortium will train developers to build similar apps on an open source platform. As more computing functions shift to cloud-based software as a service (SaaS), so will the competitive battle between Microsoft and the open source community.

For IBM, Google and other companies developing for open source platforms, the availability of developers with expertise in SaaS apps is crucial. "We in academia and the government labs have not kept up with the times," Randal E. Bryant, dean of the computer science school at Carnegie Mellon University, told The Times. "Universities really need to get on board." The universities involved in the initiative include Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Stanford University, Cal-Berkeley, the University of Maryland and the University of Washington.

Significantly, the Times said the data centers for the project "will run an open source version of Google's data center software." Google is known to write custom operating system and web server software. The real "secret sauce" is the software that ties together its huge clusters of servers housed in data centers around the country. Google would be unlikely to do anything to erode its competitive position in data center operations, but it will be interesting to see the details of today's announcement.

In the meantime, you can read up on background on Google's back-end software and approach to open source.