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Google Turns Its Hardware Manufacturing Over To Dell

Up until late last year, Google assembled its high-end enterprise search box on its own, from components supplied by a variety of white-box manufacturers.

Google, long rumored to be getting into the hardware business, has finally gotten out of it, as least as a manufacturer.

While whispers about a Google phone, Google chips, and Google PCs continue to tantalize consumers, the search company said on Thursday that it had recently partnered with Dell to manufacture the Google Search Appliance (GSA), fulfilling a deal disclosed last summer.

Dell began trumpeting Google as a customer several weeks ago with an ad campaign aimed at business customers.

Up until late last year, Google assembled its high-end enterprise search box on its own, from components supplied by a variety of white-box manufacturers. (The low-end Google Mini search box is currently manufactured by San Jose, Calif.-based Supermicro Computer Inc.)

"When the business was much smaller, it was an easy thing for us to do," said Matthew Glotzbach, director of product management for Google Enterprise. "Google does a lot on the hardware side with our own data centers. So it wasn't really much of a stretch to handle that sort of smaller operation."

But Google had problems scaling. The Google Search Appliance proved to be quite popular and Google had to decide either to staff up and improve its manufacturing operation or look to a third-party.

"As the business grew, we saw that manufacturing wasn't our core competency and so looked for partners who could provide that capability," said Glotzbach. "We selected Dell for a number of reasons but obviously for their world-class capabilities and for their very efficient operation."

Google's enterprise business counts over 7,000 corporate customers, including Abbott Laboratories, American Express, Cisco Systems, Procter & Gamble, Reed Business Information, and the U.S. Army.

The timing of Google's deal with Dell is noteworthy. Just as Google began working with Dell to make the GSA in late 2006, Dell formed its Data Center Solutions Division. Launched in March, the Data Center Solutions Division caters to the needs of what Dell spokesperson David Lord called "hyper-scale" data center customers.

What appealed to Google, according to Lord, is Dell's 9G server architecture, which the represents a significant reduction in complexity and offers leading performance per watt as well as improved management capabilities. Beyond technology, Dell's logistical support is also helpful: Dell handles shipping and receiving when GSAs need to be replaced or returned.

The Google Search Appliance is built with a Dell PowerEdge 2950 dual processor Xeon-based server, Google's software and some yellow paint. There are no custom internal components, said Glotzbach, but branding was key. "We obviously love the bright yellow box with the custom bezel and the Google logo," he said. "That was no problem for them."

The importance of product customization to Google is echoed in its interest in search personalization. The GSA's software incorporates many of the personalization features Google uses to improve its Internet search relevancy. "By focusing on the area of personalization, we believe we can deliver more and more relevant information to the end-user," explained Glotzbach.

While the GSA's personalization data is stored inside the corporate firewall, Glotzbach said he expects that there will eventually be a way to merge personalization data from one's work life and home life.

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