George Gilder wrote a brilliant essay in Wired about the importance of the data centre. These information factories are the real power behind today’s Internet.
Today Google rules a total database of hundreds of petabytes, swelled every 24 hours by terabytes of Gmails, MySpace pages, and dancing-doggy videos a relentless march of daily deltas, each larger than the whole Web of a decade ago. To make sense of it all, Page and Brin with Microsoft, Yahoo, and Barry “QVC” Diller’s Ask.com hot on their heels are frantically taking the computer-on-a-chip and multiplying it, in massively parallel arrays, into a computer-on-a-planet.
The data centers these companies are building began as exercises in making the planet’s ever-growing data pile searchable. Now, turbocharged with billions in Madison Avenue mad money for targeted advertisements, they’re morphing into general-purpose computing platforms, vastly more powerful than any built before.
All those PCs are still there, but they have less and less to do, as Google and the others take on more and more of the duties once delegated to the CPU. Optical networks, which move data over vast distances without degradation, allow computing to migrate to wherever power is cheapest. Thus, the new computing architecture scales across Earth’s surface. Ironically, this emerging architecture is interlinked by the very technology that was supposed to be Big Computing’s downfall: the Internet.
In the PC era, the winners were companies that dominated the microcosm of the silicon chip. The new age of petacomputing will be ruled by the masters of the remote data center those who optimally manage processing power, electricity, bandwidth, storage, and location. They will leverage the Net to provide not only search, but also the panoply of applications formerly housed on the desktop. For the moment, at least, the dawning era favors scale in hardware rather than software applications, and centralized operations management rather than operating systems at the network’s edge.
Wasting what is abundant to conserve what is scarce, the G-men have become the supreme entrepreneurs of the new millennium. However, past performance does not guarantee future returns. As large as the current Google database is, even bigger shocks are coming. An avalanche of digital video measured in exabytes (10 to the 18th power, or 1,000 petabytes) is hurtling down from the mountainsides of panicked Big Media and bubbling up from the YouTubian depths. The massively parallel, prodigally wasteful petascale computer has its work cut out for it.
Tomorrow Persistent Search
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