Google Data Center FAQ, Part 3

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Does Google operate “green” data centers?
Google hasn’t had any of its data center certified under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program administered by the U.S. Green Buildings Council, but has sought a leadership role in clean energy and energy efficiency. In early 2007 the company announced that it would be carbon neutral for 2007 and beyond, and co-founded an industry consortium, the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, to advocate for “less wasteful computing infrastructure” such as high-efficiency power supplies. Google has also launched RE>C, an initiative to develop electricity from renewable sources cheaper than electricity produced from coal. The project’s initial focus is on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies and geothermal systems.

A wind-powered data center facility in the U.S. could provide a testbed for new technologies. Google’s foundation, Google.org, is working with Makani Power, a California company seeking to harness high-altitude wind energy to produce cheap renewable energy. The Google Foundation is also investing in eSolar, a thermal solar power startup which is working to develop “utility-scale” solar power. Solar thermal power systems use reflected sunlight as a heat-source to drive electric generators.

What kind of hardware and software does Google use in its data centers?
Google uses commodity web servers that it customizes with highly-efficient power supplies. The company’s engineers have filed a patent on a power supply that integrates a battery, allowing it to function as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Google is also reported to be building its own energy-efficient 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches for its data centers.

Google is known to use in-house software for its operations. These programs include: 

  • Google File System: A scalable distributed file system for large distributed data-intensive applications. It provides fault tolerance while running on inexpensive commodity hardware, and it delivers high aggregate performance to a large number of clients. 
  • Google Web Server (GWS) and Google Front End (GFE): Customized version of Apache that Google uses to host its sites. GFE is the server found on Blogger sites at blogspot.com, according to the Netcraft Web Server Survey, while Google uses GWS (Google Web Server) on some other services, including its image search. 
  • MapReduce: A programming model and system for processing and generating large data sets. MapReduce programs are automatically parallelized and executed on a large cluster of commodity machines. 
  • BigTable: A distributed storage system for managing structured data that is designed to scale to a very large size: petabytes of data across thousands of commodity servers. Many projects at Google store data in Bigtable, including web indexing, Google Earth, and Google Finance. Read PDF for details.

Do Google’s sites ever go offline?
Not very often. The web site monitoring service Pingdom tracked Google’s worldwide network of search sites for a one-year period ending in October 2007, and found that all 32 of Google’s worldwide search portals (including google.co.uk, google.in, etc.) maintained uptime of at least “four nines” – 99.99 percent. The main site at google.com was down for 31 minutes in the 12-month monitoring period. The best performer was Google Brazil (google.com.br), with 3 minutes of downtime. Some Google services (notably Blogger) experience performance problems more often.

Does Google lease space in other companies’ data centers?
In recent years Google has made a concerted effort to reduce its use of data center space in multi-tenant facilities. Google is reported to have reduced its use of space at Equinix (EQIX) and Savvis (SVVS). Operating its own facilities allows Google more flexibility in its design and more space to grow. Sharing a data center building with other providers also makes it harder for Google to maintain secrecy around its operations, as data center admins and contractors for other companies will be coming and going in a multi-tenant site. As an example, blogger Robert Scoble once got a look at some of Google’s data center space when he visited the cages of a photo sharing startup, which happened to be housed in the same facility.

Are there pictures of Google’s servers and data centers?
There are many pictures of the exterior of Google’s data centers, and a smaller selection of images of the equipment inside. A Google Image Search turns up many photos around the web, and many others have been posted on Flickr.

Equipment: The Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley has a display of the first Google production server rack from 1999. Several more recent photos of Google racks from presentations have appeared on the web, one showing an image from a slide from Google Developer Day in 2007 and another from 2006 that has been widely circulated.

Exteriors: Google’s facility in The Dalles has been the subject of many photos, most notably collections posted online by Dalles resident John Nelson in 2006 and Information Week editor John Foley in 2007. There are also a set of photos from Erwin Boogert of Google’s data centers in the Netherlands at Eemshaven and Groningen.

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