Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Googling with Googlers

An afternoon spent imbibing the culture of Google. What used to be SGI's space age campus now houses perhaps 1000 or maybe 1500 Googlers. I guess those that go to the font to worship become Googlytes. It's an impressive space. The canteen alone is impressive. A huge open area serving lunch and dinner for the whole company. Outside it's barbecue time. Sergei is even getting some volley ball in. People have talked before about the screen that displays a scrolling list of searches going on at that second. It's only a sample, maybe 1-2 a second, versus the 100x or 1000x that actually going on. The results are filtered, in English at least. In foreign languages, who knows what is being looked for. But more than 50% are non-US searches. The coolest screen though is a map of the globe - clouds and all - showing pulses of light for every google search at every node. Huge concentrations in English in the USA, streams of dots in French in France and the French colonies, acres of darkness in Africa, India and elsewhere, Spanish and Portugese in South America. Every language represented by a different colour, one pulse for every search, all moving in a 3D space to show concentration. A slip of the mouse zooms in to let you see individual countries and nodes within. Another changes the view, removes the clouds and shows the map in full relief. Another shows the traffic, hopping from country to country, data centre to data centre. Fabulous example of the power of the Internet, the reach of Google and the art of presenting data. Google is a proxy of the 'net and this screen shows how far the net has reached, in which languages and, also of course, where it hasn't reached. How many servers does Google have? Who knows. They won't talk about it. But they have a lot, built from off the shelf components goes the myth (and, in reception, is a rack of kit showing that to be the case, with corkboard spacers between the servers to provide some heat reduction. 22 units high, 4 servers per slot). How do they manage the configuration, deploy the units and keep track? Custom tools by the sounds of it. The feeling there is that the data centre business is inefficient and wasteful, so they keep their technology in house (end to end) so that, at every step, they can eliminate waste. And I believe it. The parking lot is full of humdrum cars, although in one far corner is a beautifully polished early 60s Porsche 911. That will all change soon I guess. The lot will fill with some faster, sleeker, cooler cars perhaps. I'm told that some early Googlers are already surfing, knowing that they've gone full on for the last 5 years and now they can take a break. But staring across the canteen, you don't get the impression that too many are going to opt out at this stage. The 20% projects keep them in - the urge to spend one day a week on a new project, related or not, whether it's an AI system to play Texas Hold 'em Poker, or a new optimisation engine to filter out spam linkers.

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