Google builds own servers for efficiency, exec says

The company generally doesn't talk about its technology

Google Inc., typically tight-lipped about the technology behind its data centers, builds its own servers to save money and because standard products don't meet its needs, the company's senior vice president of operations said today.

Hardware makers invest heavily in researching and developing reliable products, a feature that most businesses value. But Google doesn't  need very reliable servers because it has written its software to compensate for hardware outages, said Urs Holzle, speaking at Google's European headquarters in Dublin.

Instead of buying commercial servers at a price that increases with reliability, Google builds less-reliable servers at a cheaper cost knowing that its software will work around any outages. "For us, that's the right solution," Holzle said.

Another reason that Google builds its own servers is equally simple: it can save costs on power consumption.

Energy efficiency is a subject Holzle speaks passionately about. About half of the energy that goes into a data center gets lost due to technology inefficiencies that are often easy to fix, he said.

The power supply to servers is one place where energy is unnecessarily lost. One-third of the electricity running through a typical power supply leaks out as heat, Holzle said. That's a waste of energy, and it creates additional costs because of the increased cooling requirements of a building.

Rather than waste the electricity and incur the additional costs for cooling, Google has power supplies specially made that are 90% efficient. "It's not hard to do. That's why to me it's personally offensive" that standard power supplies aren't as efficient, Holzle said.

While he acknowledged that ordering specially made power supplies is more expensive than buying standard products, Google still saves money ultimately by conserving energy and cooling, Holzle said.

Google has data centers scattered around the globe but is usually reluctant to divulge details of the hardware and software running in the centers. Holzle spoke to journalists during his visit to Dublin for the final day of the European Code Jam, a contest for programmers sponsored by Google in an effort to identify talented potential workers. 

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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