TECH TALK: The Best of 2005: Google

3. Robert Cringely on Google

Google has been the flavour of the year. [In fact, I wouldnt be surprised if it (or its founders) is named as Time magazines Person of the Year.] There have been numerous stories — and a couple books on Google and its intentions. For me, the ones which made me think most were the set of three articles by Robert Cringely in November-December.

The first article was entitled Google-Mart and based about how Google has learnt more from Wal-Mart than Microsoft. The real focus was on Googles plans with its dark fibre purchases.

Google’s strengths are searching, development of Open Source Internet services, and running clusters of tens of thousands of servers. Notice on this list there is nothing about operating systems.

The same follows for the rumor that Google, as a dark fiber buyer, will turn itself into some kind of super ISP. Won’t happen. And WHY it won’t happen is because ISPs are lousy businesses and building one as anything more than an experiment (as they are doing in San Francisco with wireless) would only hurt Google’s earnings.

So why buy-up all that fiber, then?

The probable answer lies in one of Google’s underground parking garages in Mountain View. There, in a secret area off-limits even to regular GoogleFolk, is a shipping container. But it isn’t just any shipping container. This shipping container is a prototype data center. Google hired a pair of very bright industrial designers to figure out how to cram the greatest number of CPUs, the most storage, memory and power support into a 20- or 40-foot box. We’re talking about 5000 Opteron processors and 3.5 petabytes of disk storage that can be dropped-off overnight by a tractor-trailer rig. The idea is to plant one of these puppies anywhere Google owns access to fiber, basically turning the entire Internet into a giant processing and storage grid.

The second article in the series looked at the endpoints which would connect to these data centers the Google Box.

…the most important reason for Google to distribute its data centers in this way is to work most efficiently with a hardware device the company is thinking of providing to customers. This embedded device, for which I am afraid I have no name, is a small box covered with many types of ports – USB, RJ-45, RJ-11, analog and digital video, S-video, analog and optical sound, etc. Additional I/O that can’t be seen is WiFi and Bluetooth. This little box is Google’s interface to every computer, TV, and stereo system in your home, as well as linking to home automation and climate control. The cubes are networked together wirelessly in a mesh network, so only one need be attached to your broadband modem or router. Like VoIP adapters (it does that too, through the RJ-11 connector) the little cubes will come in the mail and when plugged in will just plain work.

Think about the businesses these little gizmos will enable. The trouble with VoIP in the home has been getting the service easily onto your home phone. Then get a box for each phone. The main hurdle of IP TV is getting it from your computer to your big screen TV. Just attach a box to every TV and it is done, with no PC even required. Sounds like Apple’s Video Express, eh? On top of entertainment and communication the cubes will support home alarm and automation systems – two businesses that are huge and also not generally on the radar screens of any Google competitors.

The third article extrapolated to The Sweet Spot and Googles plans to win the broadband game.

Parked at the peering point, sitting on the same SONET ring as the local telephone company, Google will have done as much as it possibly can to reduce any network disadvantage. By leveraging its own fiber backbone Google not only further avoids such interference, it has a chance to gain a step or two through better routing or more generous backbone provisioning. What’s stored IN the data centers is important, but how they are CONNECTED is equally important.

The other part of the strategy is the gBox or gCube or — how about this one, the gSpot? — Google’s interface device, which might be Google’s version of the “Home Gateway.” Another example would be France Telecom’s Livebox (or the number two French ISP Free’s Freebox, which is even better), integrating video, Internet, and VoIP. And if you check out the latest Xbox or PS/2 releases, you’ll see everyone is heading that same way, from different starting points in the home. But the gSpot strategy is completely different. Where the company is deliberately deciding NOT to compete against the infrastructure builders on the street corner, they plan to overwhelm all players inside homes and businesses.

Who is going to win the triple play? It doesn’t matter. Who is going to win the game? Any player with deep pockets and no particular technological dependency. At this point that could be Yahoo or Microsoft or AOL or some new player altogether, but it probably means Google.
Whether this is indeed what Google does or not only time will tell. But theres plenty of food for thought on how to build the infrastructure for tomorrows world, especially in emerging markets.

Tomorrow: Mobility

TECH TALK The Best of 2005+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.