At Google, the search giant that's in the process of building its second data center in Council Bluffs, officials get hundreds of requests each day from members of the media, technology-curious people and even its own employees to get a peek inside its sprawling data centers.
The answer is no.
“We just can't allow the public into the data centers,” Joe Kava, Google's senior director of data center construction and operations, told The World-Herald on Wednesday. “We keep them under tight guard for the privacy and security of user data.”
But now, in an attempt to satiate the curiosity, Google has decided to bring data centers to the public by hosting a digital tour at a special website featuring an array of photos and using the company's Streetview technology to show inside and outside views of its data centers around the world. The digital tour can be found here.
“This way, we can bring the data center experience to the public,” Kava said of the website, which urges viewers to see “where the Internet lives.”
“Open up the doors to see where you surf,” it says. “Visit eight places your computer has already been.”
The maze of computers depicted process Internet search requests, show YouTube video clips and distribute email for millions of people.
The computers also enable Google to study search requests and Web-surfing habits in an effort to gain a better understanding of what people like. The company does this in an effort to show ads of products and services to the people most likely to be interested in buying them. Advertising accounts for virtually all of Google's revenue, which totaled nearly $23 billion through the first half of this year.
In photos of Google's $600 million Council Bluffs center that opened in 2009, exterior shots show massive cooling towers surrounded by a sea of yellow wildflowers and even visiting deer.
On the inside, banks of routers and digital switches snaked with cables are illuminated by brightly colored lights. Other photos give an aerial view of the expansive, 115,000 square feet of space packed with banks of servers.
Other features highlighted — like the simple plastic curtains that help surround servers with cool air piped in from the floor, the complex power distribution grid and exterior water storage tanks — are some of the details that have helped Google gain a reputation for being prudent with its energy use. At most of its data centers, Kava said, Google uses about half the power that a data center of a similar size from a different company would use.
To achieve those results, Google allows its data centers to run a bit warmer than its rivals, while still maintaining the same efficiency out of its servers, he said.
The company also designs its data centers to use natural, sustainable cooling methods based on the environment they're built in. At the company's data center in Finland, for example, the facility uses frigid ocean water to keep air temperatures cool. In Council Bluffs, Kava said, the plant uses an evaporative cooling method that uses less water and energy.
The photographic access to Google's data centers coincides with the publication of a Wired magazine article about how the company builds and operates them. The article is written by Steven Levy, a journalist who won Google's trust while writing “In the Plex,” a book published last year about the company's philosophy and evolution. The photographer involved in the project is Connie Zhou.
The company's other data centers are located in: Berkeley County, S.C.; Douglas County, Ga.; Mayes County, Okla.; Lenoir, N.C.; The Dalles, Ore.; Hamina, Finland; and St. Ghislain, Belgium. Other data centers are being built in Quilicura, Chile; Hong Kong; Singapore; and Taiwan.
By late 2013, Google's second Council Bluffs data center, a $300 million investment, is expected to be ready for initial testing. The construction site is prepped and ready for the shell of the structure to be built, Kava said, and Google is in the process of ordering all of the equipment that will fill and power the facility upon completion.
Even when that complex is finished and operational, Kava said, it won't be the last data center Google builds on the 1,000-acre parcel of land the company owns east of the MidAmerican Energy generating plant, on the east side of Interstate 29.
“I will tell you this: Council Bluffs is one of our homes, and we plan on being there a long time,” he said. “As need grows, it's a fair assumption that we will continue to grow our operations on that site.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
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