In the words of Swiss technophilosopher René Berger, "It’s becoming impossible not to visit with Google daily". But when you do, what do you visit exactly? In other words: what does a search engine really look like? It actually looks like this:
This picture of Google’s new server farm in The Dalles, Oregon was published a couple weeks ago in the New York Times. The facility, which is under construction, is only one of several Google data centers, but John Markoff and Saul Hansell in their article speculate that it may "soon be one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers". TED sponsor Google is known primarily as a search engine, they write, but it is actually "foremost an effort to build a network of supercomputers (…) that can process more data, faster and cheaper than its rivals". The choice of The Dalles as the location of the data center has apparently to do with the availability of low-cost electricity (the grey structures protruding from the two football-field-sized buildings on the left are cooling towers) and easy access to data networks.
Markoff and Hansell have some interesting figures: In March 2001, when Google was serving about 70 million pages a day, its computing system had about 8’000 servers; by 2003 that number had grown to 100’000. Today "the best guess is that Google has more than 450’000 servers spread over at least 25 locations around the world". For comparison, they write, Microsoft’s Internet activities currently use some 200’000 servers. In a recent Fortune article TED regular David Kirkpatrick puts the number of Google servers around the world at one million and confirms that Microsoft is also investing billions in infrastructure. Kirkpatrick quotes Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie: "Just think about where there are windmills, dams, and other natural power sources around the world: that’s where you’re going to see server farms".