Planetary-scale computing

Planetary-scale computing

Summary: If you really want to know how to build a cloud, look at how Google architects its data center infrastructure to produce economies of scale at a global level


One of the fundamental principles when implementing cloud computing is the concept of repeatable scale. There was a great illustration of that principle in operation in last week's Wired report on Google's data center built in an abandoned paper mill in Finland. Repeatable scale starts at the hardware layer, by kitting out the data center with identikit server building blocks that can be virtualized without having to take account of individual physical servers because they're all the same. Google calls this 'warehouse-scale computing'. Except that with Google, it doesn't stop at the walls of the building. Its computing runs at planetary scale.

Sometimes, conditions in an individual data center mean that computing loads have to be moved out of that location to other data centers, either partially or completely. The Wired article (with a little help from The Register) confirms that Google uses a software utility it has devised called Spanner to do that automatically. In Google's own words (as The Register originally reported), Spanner is a "storage and computation system that spans all our data centers [and that] automatically moves and adds replicas of data and computation based on constraints and usage patterns." The automation is capable of initiating a virtual evacuation of a data center in seconds, without human intervention. Now that's what I call a cloud.

When running a cloud at that kind of scale, you start looking very closely at the huge sums you're spending on power and cooling. The Finland data center takes a creative approach to reducing its power bills (at the same time as improving its green credentials) by using naturally chilled seawater for heat exchange rather than the usual electrically powered air conditioning units. That takes out an important slug of energy costs that help make the operating costs of Google's cloud even more economical than less highly scaled competitors, reinforcing its competitive advantage as a public cloud provider.

Of course it's also true that what looks like a public cloud to the outside world is just as much a private cloud from Google's perspective as any enterprise IT infrastructure — especially one that is accessed from the public Internet by customers, partners and employees. Therefore, if you really want to know how to build a private cloud, you should take a serious look at what Google is doing. Although it's more secretive about the inner workings of its cloud than most, any rare glimpses of how it operates provide a useful insight into cloud best practice. Not everyone's cloud will span the planet, but no cloud can be a competitive proposition unless it's got the potential to scale massively.

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Data Centers, Google, Storage

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Planetary-scale computing

    Title brought to mind thoughts of Deep Thought and Mice...shuddered there for a second. At least it's not Thursday.
  • RE: Planetary-scale computing

    Who ever thought Skynet would come from an advertising company ;-)
  • RE: Planetary-scale computing

    The white papers that Google has released on some of their technology, such as BigTable, Google File System and Google App Engine, make for fascinating reading. There are some brilliant minds working for Google.
  • In the future there will just be one big computer

    and it will be controlled by the Chinese government.
    • RE: Planetary-scale computing


      And the answer will be 42.
  • savings on cloud computing

    My opinion is that, with companies dealing with reduced budgets everywhere, cloud computing is definitely the way to go when it comes to consolidating IT operations. It can help your company reach both your IT and financial goals. Thus, cloud computing enables you to reduce server sprawl and lower total costs of ownership. Virtualization and cloning is fast, inexpensive and there are no upfront capital costs. When taken as a whole, the economic benefits of cloud computing will make good sense for your company to gain greater ROI from your IT investment.< a href => ERP solutions </a>