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Google Groans Under Data Strain

Posted by iNext - 2005-12-19

Google is consuming storage and computing power at a worrying rate, according to David Girouard, general manager at the firm’s enterprise division.

During his keynote at the Interop show here this week, Girouard explained that the firm blows through "an incredible amount" of computing power, disk space, and bandwidth. The exec noted that the firm has “concerns about the future in all these respects.”
 
“If you look at what we’re doing with Google Earth,” he explained, “it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to say that there’s a tremendous amount of processing power, bandwidth, and storage going on at Google in everything that we do.” Google Earth, part Web-based geography app, part 3D-rendering machine, whirls users around the globe with frightening speed and clarity.

Google is notorious for playing its technology cards close to the vest and, true to form, Girouard refused to expand on the firm’s back-end data woes when pressed by Byte and Switch.

There have been recent hints that Google, like other firms, could be wrestling with its data demons. According to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last month, the firm’s capital expenditures more than doubled, growing from $259.9 million in the nine months ended September 30, 2004, to $592.4 million for the same period in 2005. Google expects to spend more than $800 million on property and equipment, including IT infrastructure, land, and buildings, to help manage and expand its operations during 2005.

Storage undoubtedly plays a major part in this, as Google constantly launches new data-hungry products. Last month, for example, the search engine unveiled the beta version of Google Base, a free online service where users can submit different types of content that Google hosts and makes searchable online. Similar to a database, Google Base lets users describe and assign attributes to the information they upload and then uses meta-data to target search results.

But Girouard, during his keynote earlier this week, implied that Google is not looking to challenge the likes of Oracle or EMC with its ongoing technology offerings. “There’s certainly content management elements of our product,” he admitted. “But we’re not really in the business of selling database or content management technology.”

Instead, he said that future products are more likely to have the look and feel of the Google search engine, but tailored to specific business needs. “We really believe that’s what makes most sense for us as a company."

Google is also in the throes of a massive, and controversial, book digitalization project -- which has sent tremors through the publishing industry, and, last year, turned the heat up on its competitors -- by launching GMail, a free Webmail service. Initially offering users up to a Gbyte of storage, this capacity has since been expanded to 2.5 Gbytes.

But Girouard protested when one attendee inquired about Google’s plans for world domination. “I don’t think ‘dominates’ is a word we’re really comfortable with,” he replied, prompting laughter from the audience. “We would like to see other book scanning projects. We would like to see other people finding ways to make more information available.”

Of course, few firms possess the apparent resources or the sheer momentum of Google, which seems hell-bent on extending its business into as many aspects of society as possible, from the corporate world through to home Internet users.

In the corporate realm, Girouard noted that Google has so far racked up a couple thousand customers for its Google Mini device for indexing and searching documents, which was launched earlier this year.

Technology vendors, anticipating a massive payday, started rubbing their hands when Google went public last year. The firm is also planning one of the world’s largest telecom networks.



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