Inside Google’s Giant Data Centers 

Inside the internet: Google allows first ever look at the eight vast data  centres that power the online world

  • Data centres range from vast warehouses in  Iowa to a converted paper mill in Finland
  • Buildings are so large Google even provides  bicycles for engineers to get around them
  • Street View tour of North Carolina facility  reveals Stormtrooper standing guard

Google has given a rare glimpse inside the  vast data centres around the globe that power its services.

They reveal an intricate  maze of computers that process Internet search requests, show  YouTube video  clips and distribute email for millions of people.

With hundreds of thousands of servers,  colourful cables and even bicycles so engineers can get around quickly, they  range from a converted paper mill in Finland to custom made server farms in  Iowa.

One of Google’s server farms in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which provides over  115,000 square feet of space for servers running services like Search and  YouTube

‘Very few people have stepped inside Google’s  data centers, and for good reason: our first priority is the privacy and  security of your data, and we go to great lengths to protect it, keeping our  sites under close guard,’ the firm said.

‘While we’ve shared many of our designs and  best practices, and we’ve been publishing our efficiency data since 2008, only a  small set of employees have access to the server floor itself.

‘Today, for the first time, you can see  inside our data centers and pay them a virtual visit.

‘On Where the Internet lives, our new site  featuring beautiful photographs by Connie Zhou, you’ll get a never-before-seen  look at the technology, the people and the places that keep Google  running.’

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 is also building data centers in Hong  Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Chile.

Virtual tours of a North Carolina data center  also will be available through Google’s ‘Street View’ service, which is usually  used to view photos of neighborhoods around the world.

The photographic access to Google’s data  centers 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.

Google colour codes its servers depending on their location, while piping in the  buildings is coded depending on what it carries – with cool water in blue tubes  and warm in red

Google’s Douglas County data centre in Georgia is so large the firm provides  Google branded bicycles for staff to get around on

The data centers represent Google’s  nerve  center, although none are located near the company’s headquarters  in Mountain  View, Calif.

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.

A street view tour published by Google also reveals a hidden surprise – A  Stormtrooper standing guard over a server in Google’s North Carolina server farm

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 centers, 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.

Here hundreds of fans funnel hot air from the server racks into a cooling unit  to be recirculated in Oklahoma. The green lights are the server status LEDs  reflecting from the front of the servers

The Iowa campus network room, where routers and switches allow data centers to  talk to each other. The fiber cables run along the yellow cable trays near the  ceiling.

Even the water pipes reflect Google’s brand: These colorful pipes are  responsible for carrying water in and out of an Oregon data center. The blue  pipes supply cold water and the red pipes return the warm water back to be  cooled.

In Hamina, Finland, Google 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’s server farm in Douglas County, Iowa

Denise Harwood, a Google Engineer, diagnoses an overheated CPU. For more than a  decade, Google has built some of the world’s most efficient servers.

Each server rack has four switches, connected by a different coloured cable.  Colours are kept the same throughout data centres so staff know which one to  replace in case of failure.

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