Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

In Pictures: A rare peek inside Google's data centres

Photographs by Connie Zhou, give a never-before-seen look at the technology, the people and the places that keep Google running

This undated photo provided by Google shows a Google data center in Hamina, Finland. Google is opening a virtual window into the secretive data centers that serve as its nerve center. The unprecedented peek is being provided through a new website unveiled Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. The site features photos from inside some of the eight data centers that Google Inc. already has running in the U.S., Finland and Belgium. (AP Photo/Google)
A Google data center in Hamina, Finland. Google is opening a virtual window into the secretive data centers that serve as its nerve center. The unprecedented peek is being provided through a new website unveiled Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. The site features photos from inside some of the eight data centers that Google Inc. already has running in the U.S., Finland and Belgium. (AP Photo/Google)
A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Google is opening a virtual window into the secretive data centers that serve as its nerve center. The unprecedented peek is being provided through a new website unveiled Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. The site features photos from inside some of the eight data centers that Google Inc. already has running in the U.S., Finland and Belgium
A Google technician working on some of the computers in the Dalles, Ore., data center. Google is opening a virtual window into the secretive data centers that serve as its nerve center. The unprecedented peek is being provided through a new website unveiled Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. The site features photos from inside some of the eight data centers that Google Inc. already has running in the U.S., Finland and Belgium.
This undated photo provided by Google shows a Google data center in in Douglas Country, Ga. Google is opening a virtual window into the secretive data centers that serve as its nerve center. The unprecedented peek is being provided through a new website unveiled Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. The site features photos from inside some of the eight data centers that Google Inc. already has running in the U.S., Finland and Belgium.
Google: "Steam rises above the cooling towers in The Dalles data center in Oregon. These plumes of water vapor create a quiet mist at dusk."
Google: "These colorful pipes are responsible for carrying water in and out of our Oregon data center. The blue pipes supply cold water and the red pipes return the warm water back to be cooled."
Google: "Different data centers offer different amenities. This conference room, inside our Hamina location, is just outside a sauna area which is available for employees whenever they like."
Google: "A beautiful landscape forms during winter in Finland, as the gulf ices over and creates a picturesque view."
Google: "Server floors like these require massive space and efficient power to run the full family of Google products for the world. Here in Hamina, Finland, we chose to renovate an old paper mill to take advantage of the building's infrastructure as well as its proximity to the Gulf of Finland's cooling waters."
Google: "This family of deer have moved in next to our Council Bluffs, Iowa center."
Google: "Inside our campus network room, routers and switches allow our data centers to talk to each other. The fiber optic networks connecting our sites can run at speeds that are more than 200,000 times faster than a typical home Internet connection. The fiber cables run along the yellow cable trays near the ceiling."
Google: "In case anything should happen to our data, we have it all backed up. One of the places we back up information is here in our tape library. Robotic arms (visible at the end of the aisle) assist us in loading and unloading tapes when we need to access them."
Google: "Blue LEDs on this row of servers tell us everything is running smoothly. We use LEDs because they are energy efficient, long lasting and bright."

Google has opened a virtual window into the secretive data centres where an intricate maze of computers process Internet search requests, show YouTube video clips and distribute email for millions of people.

Photographic access to Google's data centres coincides with the publication of a Wired magazine article about how the company builds and operates them. The article is written by Steven Levy, a journalist who won Google's trust while writing "In The Plex," a book published last year about the company's philosophy and evolution.

The data centers represent Google's nerve centre, although none are located near the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

As Google blossomed from its roots in a Silicon Valley garage, company co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin worked with other engineers to develop a system to connect low-cost computer servers in a way that would help them realize their ambition to provide a digital roadmap to all of the world's information.

Initially, Google just wanted enough computing power to index all the websites on the Internet and deliver quick responses to search requests. As Google's tentacles extended into other markets, the company had to keep adding more computers to store videos, photos, email and information about their users' preferences.

The insights that Google gathers about the more than 1 billion people that use its services has made the company a frequent target of privacy complaints around the world. The latest missive came Tuesday in Europe, where regulators told Google to revise a 7-month-old change to its privacy policy that enables the company to combine user data collected from its different services.

Google studies Internet search requests and Web surfing habits in an effort to gain a better understanding of what people like. The company does this in an effort to show ads of products and services to the people most likely to be interested in buying them. Advertising accounts for virtually all of Google's revenue, which totaled nearly $23 billion through the first half of this year.

Even as it allows anyone with a Web browser to peer into its data centres, Google intends to closely guard physical access to its buildings. The company also remains cagey about how many computers are in its data centers, saying only that they house hundreds of thousands of machines to run Google's services.

Google's need for so many computers has turned the company a major electricity user, although management says it's constantly looking for ways to reduce power consumption to protect the environment and lower its expenses.

The company's data centres are located in: Berkeley County, S.C.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Douglas County, Ga.; Mayes County, Okla.; Lenoir, N.C.; The Dalles, Ore.; Hamina, Finland; and St. Ghislain, Belgium. Other data centers are being built in Quilicura, Chile; Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

The unprecedented peek is being provided through a new website unveiled yesterday at http://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/ . The site features photos from inside some of the eight data centres that Google Inc. already has running in the US, Finland and Belgium. Google is also building data centers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Chile.

Virtual tours of a North Carolina data centre is also available through Google's "Street View" service (see video below), which is usually used to view photos of neighborhoods around the world.

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