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Google Reveals Data Center Secrets

Street View imagery and a gallery of photos provide a previously unseen glimpse into Google's closely guarded data centers.
Microsoft SkyDrive Vs. Dropbox, Google: Hands-On
Microsoft SkyDrive Vs. Dropbox, Google: Hands-On
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Google has opened the doors to its data centers, allowing a photographer and a journalist access to a previously secret world for the first time.

The photographer, Connie Zhou, has captured a series of images for a new Google website, Where the Internet Lives. The artful pictures manage to frame Google's industrial structures against rural landscapes in such a way that the two opposing concepts--industry and nature--blend into one.

It's a visual elaboration on the message that Google conveyed in January when it noted that its U.S. data centers had received ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 certification, which signify compliance with environmental and workplace safety standards.

[ Which vendors do you have in your data center? Read What Huawei, ZTE Must Do To Regain Trust. ]

Google in short wants to be seen as a friendly, green neighbor, and toward that end invited Wired's Steven Levy to tour its data center in Lenoir, N.C. In a blog post, Urs Holzle, SVP of technical infrastructure at Google, notes that Levy's report is the first ever from the floor of a Google data center.

Google in the past has been criticized for its data center secrecy, also in Wired, by Ken Patchett, a former hardware operations manager for Google's Asia data centers who left to oversee Facebook's data center in Prineville, Ore. Patchett objected to a non-disclosure agreement that barred him from discussing Google's data center operations for a year after he left the company and indicated that Google's data center security concerns were excessive.

Patchett's message echoes the campaign that Facebook began last year to open computing infrastructure innovation. The social network's Open Compute Project aims to commodify data center advances through collectivism. And if it succeeds, it will mitigate what Google sees as a competitive advantage, its data center technology.

The fact that Google has decided to open its data centers and even capture interior Street View panoramas suggests Facebook's gambit has been at least partially successful. It also underscores the pressure Google and its peers face on the environmental front, laid out in a New York Times article last month.

As InformationWeek noted at the time, data centers don't present quite as much environmental peril as has been suggested.

But Google's challenge is as much about public relations as it is about making technology environmentally friendly. Google can't afford to allow its hunger for computational capacity to become a liability, something that puts it on the defensive, like privacy.

Holzle promises that more will be revealed in a series of blog posts in the coming days. Perhaps Google should start by explaining the presence in its data centers of Imperial Stormtroopers ...

Google Data Center Stormtrooper
Google Data Center


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