Nicholas Carr and Slashdot both looked into Google's revealing of it's data centre technology at the company's Data Center Energy Summit.
Google showed a video of the computer-packed shipping containers that it confirmed are the building blocks of its centers (And as Nicholas Carr remarked, proving that Robert X. Cringely was on the money after all)
Google's big surprise: each server has its own 12-volt battery to supply power if there's a problem with the main source of electricity. 'This is much cheaper than huge centralized UPS,' says Google server designer Ben Jai. 'Therefore no wasted capacity.' Efficiency is a major financial factor. Large UPSs can reach 92 to 95 percent efficiency, meaning that a large amount of power is squandered. The server-mounted batteries do better, Jai said: 'We were able to measure our actual usage to greater than 99.9 percent efficiency.' Google has patents on the built-in battery design, 'but I think we'd be willing to license them to vendors,' says Urs Hoelzle, Google's vice president of operations. Google has an obsessive focus on energy efficiency. 'Early on, there was an emphasis on the dollar per (search) query,' says Hoelzle. 'We were forced to focus. Revenue per query is very low.'"
A commenter on Slashdot had a pretty insightful take:
Most people buy computers one at a time, but Google thinks on a very different scale. Jimmy Clidaras revealed that the core of the company's data centers are composed of standard 1AAA shipping containers packed with 1,160 servers each, with many containers in each data center.
Mainstream servers with x86 processors were the only option, he added. "Ten years ago...it was clear the only way to make (search) work as free product was to run on relatively cheap hardware. You can't run it on a mainframe. The margins just don't work out," he said.
I think Google may be selling themselves short. Once you start building standardized data centers in shipping containers with singular hookups between the container and the outside world, you've stopped building individual rack-mounted machines. Instead, you've begun building a much larger machine with thousands of networked components. In effect, Google is building the mainframes of the 21st century. No longer are we talking about dozens of mainboards hooked up via multi-gigabit backplanes. We're talking about complete computing elements wired up via a self-contained, high speed network with a combined computing power that far exceeds anything currently identified as a mainframe.
The industry needs to stop thinking of these systems as portable data centers, and start recognizing them for what they are: Incredibly advanced machines with massive, distributed computing power. And since high-end computing has been headed toward multiprocessing for some time now, the market is ripe for these sorts of solutions. It's not a "cloud". It's the new mainframe.