Can Google beat the new-office curse?

Company dares to build big where others have failed, plans million-square-foot campus on NASA land. Photos: Silicon Valley's office jinx

Google is following in the high-tech footsteps of many Silicon Valley companies before it by dreaming big and building or leasing large new offices to accommodate a swelling employee roster.

The search giant announced on Wednesday plans to build a 1 million-square-foot campus at the NASA Ames Research Center, not far from its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, which is dubbed the "Googleplex."


Of course, some Silicon Valley companies are easily identified by their buildings. Oracle's shimmering green towers, for example, are a landmark for drivers on the Valley's Highway 101. And Sun Microsystems turned a historic mental-health facility just a 20-minute drive south from Oracle into a major office park.

But numerous others with grandiose plans overspent in the valley's boom years, only to be humbled when the tech bubble burst. That includes Silicon Graphics, whose former offices Google is now subleasing.

Perhaps one of the best-known examples of the campus curse is Borland Software, which moved into its controversial $70 million facility just south of Silicon Valley by 1994. Since then, Borland, once the second-largest independent software company in the world, has been soundly trumped by Microsoft, has experimented with changing its name, and is now not even among the top 10 software makers.

As part of the Google-NASA deal, the two entities plan to cooperate on research projects such as large-scale data management, nanotechnology, massively distributed computing and the entrepreneurial space industry.

Massively distributed computing aims to harness via the Internet the power of thousands or millions of PCs while their volunteer owners are not using them, putting the computers to work on large scale research projects such as health or space exploration.

NASA Ames Center Director G. Scott Hubbard said in a statement that the public-private partnership holds "an enormous range of potential benefits to the space program."

Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said at a news conference that the leased government land will be used largely for office space to house company research and development. Some projects will be specific to Google and others could be joint research efforts with NASA, he said.

So will Google run into Silicon Valley's version of the Sports Illustrated cover curse? That's doubtful, considering its influence and the challenge it poses to Microsoft. It's more likely to overcome the odds, like a spring training pick who still manages to win the World Series.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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