Google's Power-Hungry Data Centres
by Bobbie Johnson
Guardian UK, May 3, 2009
Once at full capacity, one Google data plant in Oregon
could use the same power as every home in Newcastle put together
Few places throw the internet's rapacious appetite for energy into relief more sharply than a remote 30-acre patch of scrubland in northern Oregon owned by Google.
The site, on the fringes of the city of The Dalles on the banks of the Columbia river, is home to one of the world's largest and most powerful data centres. Inside four towering air-conditioned warehouses sit tens of thousands of internet servers, acting as a clearing house for billions of pieces of data that stream from Google's servers to users around the world each day.
The plant siphons off vast amounts of energy from the nearby hydroelectric dam that produces 1.8GW of power - comparable to the Hoover Dam in Colorado, and more than 50% greater than the output of British nuclear power stations such as Sizewell B.
Although Google has traditionally been secretive about what goes on inside its data centres, last week it gave outsiders their first glimpse of its secret weapon in the battle for efficiency: the shipping container. Inside The Dalles and five other data centres that Google operates around the world, hundreds of containers are stacked in seemingly never-ending rows and columns, each one containing racks of custom-built web servers. Designing these systems to be the fastest in the industry has proved so important to Google's success that employees have referred to it as "our Manhattan project".
The Oregon facility is considered one of the jewels in Google's crown, and the company refuses to talk about the precise costs and energy demands involved. But there is clear evidence that the footprint of a centre such as The Dalles plant is enormous: industry estimates suggest that once it is running at full capacity by 2011, it could require as much as 103MW of power to run - enough to supply every home in Newcastle.
Setting up a new data centre of this size is a massive undertaking costing hundreds of millions of dollars, but that has not stopped Google continuing to expand. Despite the tough financial circumstances, the company recently announced it was considering adding a further European site after spending (euro)40m on buying an old paper mill 90 miles east of the Finnish capital, Helsinki.
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