Sunday, November 02, 2008

The physical side of Google

A view from India. . . The Hindu News

"The book also deals properly with the physical side of building adigital empire. Early on, Google chose as its hardware 'a system cobbledtogether with inexpensive PC components' rather than more costly specialist equipment. This was a clever, counter-intuitive decision, the first ofmany. Google's racks of cheap servers could easily be expanded or othersadded. The company then set about placing them as close to its potentialcustomers as possible. Stross explains: 'As fast as electrons travel,physical distance still affects [online] response speed... Reducing [it]by even a fraction of a second mattered to users, as Google discovered whenit ran experiments to see if users noticed a difference between [a wait of]0.9 seconds [and one of] 0.4 seconds... Users were conspicuously more likely to grow bored and leave the Google site after waiting thatinterminable 0.9 seconds.

As quick and pragmatic as its customers, Google spent the early years ofthis decade securing premises across America for its servers: first incommercial spaces desperate for tenants after the 2001 dotcom crash, thenin its own purpose-built "data centres". Such was the surging demand forits services, and the amount of power the company was consuming as aresult, the first such facility was established in a town with its ownhydro-electric power station.

Whether Web users will remain satisfied for many more years with thelong shaggy lists of online sources that Google offers them is a question,frustratingly, that Stross does not properly answer. He does outline themenace to the company posed by the highly successful social networking siteFacebook, "a miniature Web universe - behind a wall, inaccessible to Google". And he lists other threats. Google's copyright dispute with publishers over its desire to make all books electronically searchable remains unresolved. Google's ad revenue may shrink, and no longer be sufficient to subsidise all its other, more experimental activities.

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