Google tries wowing the world with a look at its data centers

As part of an effort to build appreciation for how it actually runs online services like search, Google is showing off its massive computing resources.

Google's data centers use color-coded pipes to indicate what they're used for. Pink means water headed for outside cooling towers.
Google's data centers use color-coded pipes to indicate what they're used for. Pink means water headed for outside cooling towers. Google/Connie Zhou

Google only rarely gives outsiders a look at its data centers, but today it's trying to make up for lost time with a large online photo gallery and Street View tour of the computing hardware.

The company launched a new site, "Where the Internet Lives" with a lot of eye candy for people who enjoy racks of computer gear, raised-floor ventilation systems, multicolored cables, and massive air-conditioning chillers. Urs Hoelzle, Google's senior vice president for technical infrastructure, announced the site in a blog post today.

It's short on details for those who want to eye Google's servers up close , but there are some glimpses in the accompanying video about Google's data centers and in a view from last year.

But to a certain extent, Google's individual servers are beside the point. They may be a fundamental computing unit to ordinary people, but Google thinks at much larger scale. Several jewels in the company's software crown -- MapReduce, the Google File System, and Spanner, for example -- are designed specifically to run on massive clusters of machines and to keep on running even when individual servers fail.

Superficially, Google's custom-built servers look similar to the one unveiled in 2009, though: computing components bolted or strapped to an open-topped piece of sheet metal. Steve Jobs might have cared about the aesthetics of his computers' innards, but for Google, the highest calling is the most purely economical and functional object.

Denise Harwood diagnoses an overheating CPU inside a long aisle between racks of computing gear in a Google data center.
Denise Harwood diagnoses an overheating CPU inside a long aisle between racks of computing gear in a Google data center. Google/Connie Zhou

Google's Street View tour of a North Carolina data center includes this humorous view of including a stormtrooper and R2-D2 droid from Star Wars.
Google's Street View tour of a North Carolina data center includes this humorous view of a stormtrooper and R2-D2 droid from Star Wars. Screenshot by CNET

Showing off the data center is smart move for a couple reasons. First, it could help outsiders value an operation at Google that's under increasing scrutiny for consuming tremendous electrical power in an era when enlightened companies are supposed to minimize their impact on the environment. Second, it could trigger some ooh-aahs among people who've begun to take Google's truly impressive computing achievements for granted.

It's something Google can genuinely brag about. The company gets grief for alleged privacy invasions and monopoly abuse, but the company has earned respect when it comes to running a colossal computing operation. Not for nothing do people joke that Skynet is most likely to become conscious within Google's infrastructure.

Google is bringing its levity to the occasion, too. As Arvid Bux noticed, there's also a Star Wars Imperial stormtrooper and R2-D2 droid in the Street View tour.

Also, Connie Zhou's photography is really very nice. This is corporate propaganda that truly is a treat for the eyes.

 

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