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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Google's supercomputer

By John Markoff and Saul Hansell The New York Times:

THE DALLES, Oregon On the banks of the windswept Columbia River, Google is working on a secret weapon in its quest to dominate the next generation of Internet computing. But it is hard to keep a secret when it is as big as two football fields, with twin cooling towers protruding four stories into the sky.

The towers, looming like an information-age nuclear plant, mark the site of what may soon be one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, helping to supply the ever-greater horsepower needed to process billions of search queries a day and a growing repertory of other Internet services.

The rate at which the Google computing system has grown is as astounding as its size. In March of 2001, when the company was serving about 70 million Web page views daily, it had 8,000 computers, according to a Microsoft researcher who was given a detailed tour of one of the company's Silicon Valley computing centers. By 2003 the number had grown to 100,000.

Today even the closest Google watchers have lost precise count of how big the system is. The best guess is that Google now has more than 450,000 servers spread in at least 25 locations around the world. The company has major operations in Ireland, and is building significant facilities in China and Russia. Connecting these centers is a high- capacity data network that the company has assembled over the past few years.

Google has found that for search engines, every millisecond longer it takes to give users their results leads to lower satisfaction. So the speed of light ends up being a constraint, and the company wants to put significant processing power close to all of its users.

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