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October 17, 2012 8:36 AM   Subscribe

This is what the internet looks like. Google hired photographer Connie Zhou to photograph its data centers for the first time ever, from enormous warehouses in Iowa to color-coded pipes in Georgia. You can even check out their security team on Street View.
posted by theodolite (86 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's the deal with the massive amount of headroom over the servers?
posted by smackfu at 8:41 AM on October 17, 2012


that's where they store the ~*magic*~
posted by elizardbits at 8:43 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's the deal with the massive amount of headroom over the servers?

Heat rises.
posted by Egg Shen at 8:44 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


NB: data on the internet is actually transported by carrier-hamsters scrambling through those pipes.
posted by griphus at 8:44 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


So the Internet really is a series of pipes...
posted by daniel_charms at 8:44 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


What's the deal with the massive amount of headroom over the servers?

Cloud computing?
posted by mazola at 8:48 AM on October 17, 2012 [18 favorites]


Some guy named Max was very specific about his requirements.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:52 AM on October 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Google =/= the internet.
posted by Runes at 8:52 AM on October 17, 2012


Kinda an interesting case study in how your infrastructure choices inform your business decision. Google hasn't been able to offer a competitor for AWS because they traditionally eschewed VMs. I think this made google less flexible. With Appengine, you got the google way or nothing. Anyone know if they have reexamined this or not?
posted by Ad hominem at 8:52 AM on October 17, 2012


There's a lot more context for these photos in Google's blog post and Steve Levy's article.
posted by Nelson at 8:56 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw their racks up close and in person way back in 1999 or 2000 when they were still outsourcing hosting. And I thought those tightly packed racks of 1/2u servers were impressive.
posted by COD at 9:00 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ad hominem: "With Appengine, you got the google way or nothing. Anyone know if they have reexamined this or not?"

We're using Google's virtualization management software to manage our KVM clusters. On top of that we wrote a webapp interface to provide some missing features like ACLs.

But from what I understand, ganeti is not Used Everywhere at Google. I do recall hearing that their devs have the option for VMs or something for desktops in some fashion or another. Thin clients, perhaps?
posted by pwnguin at 9:01 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ad hominem: Google Compute Engine is Google's VM hosting service, announced June 2012. I think your characterization of why AppEngine isn't like AWS is a bit skewed; while it's true Google historically hasn't done a lot of virtualization, I think the goal behind AppEngine was bringing Google-style software architecture to the masses. Particularly the NoSQL data store. It's pretty good but in the meantime the world has moved a different way.
posted by Nelson at 9:03 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well yeah, but the masses didn't seem to want it. Sure letting people use bigtable is cool but I think it took them so long to offer a VM hosting solution because they themselves did not use VMs. They had already decided on what they felt was a correct infrastructure and it hard for them to pivot when everyone and their dog started offering VM hosting.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:11 AM on October 17, 2012


A data center over-taking an abandoned paper factory seems very à propos.
posted by wcfields at 9:11 AM on October 17, 2012 [19 favorites]


The internet is prettier than I expected.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:11 AM on October 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


What's the deal with the massive amount of headroom over the servers?

Sooner or later cooling fails, heat rises, headroom is good. (this from someone who manages a server room with a 10' ceiling, not good)
posted by Cosine at 9:12 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also? It makes me feel bad about my own cable management.

Which consists largely of "plug things in, shove cables towards the wall periodically with feet."
posted by jacquilynne at 9:12 AM on October 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


The internet is prettier than I expected.

On the other hand...
posted by kmz at 9:13 AM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


The internet has more color than I suspected. I believe i can now, without fearing I'll use up all the blue, switch from the professional white background to the default Metafilter Background....

3
2
1
switch


Whohhhh.....
posted by HuronBob at 9:15 AM on October 17, 2012


This one, is just the fire sprinkler controls, nothing particularly internetty about it.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:29 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aw, you mean Google's datacenters look more-or-less like everyone else's? Bummer.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:31 AM on October 17, 2012


Woot, Double block and bleed pron!
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:31 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's probably just me, but that G-bike looks rather small - almost child-like. I should admit though that I've never been inside of a data center and I think I'm beginning to realize just how massive they are. I'm not up to speed on bikes either...

Regardless of the dimensions of the bike or the facility, the size disparity between the two offers a lovely sense of viewing a technopolitan (sic) wonderland.
posted by neitherly at 9:36 AM on October 17, 2012


Aw, you mean Google's datacenters look more-or-less like everyone else's?

You really think so? Most datacenters have much more of a mix of things in racks, so they don't have the "wall of blue LEDs" thing you have going on here. And I've never seen color coded pipes, unless the color code was "beige = pipes".
posted by smackfu at 9:38 AM on October 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Aw, you mean Google's datacenters look more-or-less like everyone else's? Bummer.

How many datacentres are you in? None that I frequent look remotely like that. I try and try but nope, not like that.
posted by Cosine at 9:41 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's probably just me, but that G-bike looks rather small - almost child-like.

Yeah, it's tiny. Apparently the Schwinn-cruiser look with fenders and ape hanger bars is standard for industrial-use bicycles, although I can't imagine why.
posted by theodolite at 9:46 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


theodolite: It's probably just me, but that G-bike looks rather small - almost child-like.

Yeah, it's tiny. Apparently the Schwinn-cruiser look with fenders and ape hanger bars is standard for industrial-use bicycles, although I can't imagine why.
Ugly, out-of-fashion bikes are less likely to "accidentally" go home with employees. Especially if they aren't an ideal fit, otherwise (so a simple handlebar switch makes it acceptable).
posted by IAmBroom at 10:04 AM on October 17, 2012


I like to imagine that the security guards at these places are Goombas and Koopa Troopas.
posted by XMLicious at 10:06 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


you're accessing one of the most powerful server networks in the known Universe.

That's wishful thinking at best and you know it, Google. The chances of our networking and computer technology being among the most advanced in the entire universe is infinitely tiny.
posted by mediocre at 10:07 AM on October 17, 2012


mediocre: in the known Universe.
They covered that.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:10 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are more server networks in time and space, Horatio,
Than are known of in your astronomy.
posted by griphus at 10:12 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know the focus of the " check out their security team on Street View." is on the stormtrooper standing in front of the stacks but if you look 180° behind you, there are a whole mess of scooters waiting for someone to scoot through the internet.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:16 AM on October 17, 2012


Several of these pictures remind me of the inside of a borg cube. Fitting?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:20 AM on October 17, 2012


They also said "one of the most powerful". I bet ECHELON, Stellar Wind, or TIA or whatever we are calling it these days is much more powerful. Wonder if NSA data centers have color coded pipes.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:24 AM on October 17, 2012


I've never seen color coded pipes

Don't let the bright toy-like colors fool you. All the evilness of Google is flowing through those pipes.
posted by Egg Shen at 10:25 AM on October 17, 2012


Apparently the Schwinn-cruiser look with fenders and ape hanger bars is standard for industrial-use bicycles, although I can't imagine why.

Because it's a Worksman bicycle, and they are engineered to withstand immense amounts of abuse with minimal maintenance - the Checker Cab of the industrial bicycle world. Made in New York City. (The new G-Bikes are Worksman Newsgirls with a custom paint job.)

The G-Bike pictured is a mini-velo, probably a restored, modified and painted Raleigh 20, because it's meant to navigate datacenters. (Note the colorful non-marking tires.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:33 AM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Doesn't seem to display properly in Firefox 16.0.1 on OS X, Safari is OK.
posted by epo at 10:36 AM on October 17, 2012


Oooh, I wonder if anything is visible on the computer screens in the tour of the cubical farm? Here is someone just sitting at a desk, let's see what's on his screen. Yep... rick-rolled.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:39 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


There is also google's super secret plan. And the snack girl creepshot.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:47 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would say this looks slightly more homogenous and bigger than other datacenters I've been in, but that's it. I've seen color-coded pipes before.

It would not surprise me to learn that I've been in more than 100 datacenters. Certainly Google's in the top 10% of size and organization, but nothing I haven't seen elsewhere.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:53 AM on October 17, 2012


Who is this guy?
posted by elgilito at 10:57 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some very amazing photographs though.
posted by Windopaene at 11:04 AM on October 17, 2012


Google's datacenters look more-or-less like everyone else's? Bummer.

Their servers lack cases. There are no vendor logos on any equipment as it's all custom-built for Google. There are no cages. The pipes are color-coded to Google's color scheme. There isn't the one customer with cabling from hell that people like me carefully maneuver clients around so they don't have to look at it.

I though that they had motion sensors tied to their lighting so only that only the section people are working in are lit, but I suppose that wouldn't photograph well.
posted by Blue Meanie at 11:07 AM on October 17, 2012


Who is this guy?

More importantly, do they REALLY need a special docking device for the Razor scooters? At least one person there realizes that it's cheaper and probably faster to just lean the damn thing against a wall.
posted by mediocre at 11:21 AM on October 17, 2012


That's overall the best looking data center(s) I've ever seen. Consistent, bright, huge, smart. They are really into saving power too.
posted by stbalbach at 11:30 AM on October 17, 2012


HWOps 4 LYFE!
posted by kdar at 11:33 AM on October 17, 2012


More importantly, do they REALLY need a special docking device for the Razor scooters?

My three kids have those scooters, and now I really want a google dock for them. They never stay against the wall, and thus are always underfoot, under the car, under the garage door, etc.
posted by TreeRooster at 12:06 PM on October 17, 2012


Straight racks will be a thing of the past in a few years - as will be distribution switches. Giant, towering cylinders are the shiny newness, as square footage is cheap if you're building out in places like rural North Carolina, but network cabling and high-speed network infrastructure equipment is not. Behold, the Cayley Datacenter!
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:14 PM on October 17, 2012


"The blue pipes supply cold water and the red pipes return the warm water back to be cooled."

The yellow pipes provide nacho cheese and the green pipes provide M&Ms.
posted by pashdown at 12:42 PM on October 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


LIES! These pipes are not the internet. Where are the cats?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:58 PM on October 17, 2012


I used to run a website off the eee-pc in my office. Nobody knew the difference (it's still my print server).

This... this is what they call "perspective."
posted by klanawa at 1:07 PM on October 17, 2012


Yeah, I used to work about 20 feet away from what could arguably be called "The Internet", a huge ISP switch room with a bunch of core internet switches and routers and fiber links all over the east coast. It looked way more haphazard than this, largely because it was cludged together over two decades of expansion.

It was awesome for downloading torrents, though.
posted by empath at 1:17 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


http://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/tech/8 gave me flashbacks to the teacher from The Wall.
posted by Sparx at 1:32 PM on October 17, 2012


Interesting photos of tubes and wires and stuff, but I'm still pretty sure this is what the internet looks like.
posted by dgaicun at 1:41 PM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


And the snack girl creepshot.

Ms. Mitchell is one of their hardware engineers apparently. I would be surprised if this was left up over her objections.
posted by bonehead at 1:52 PM on October 17, 2012


What's the deal with the massive amount of headroom over the servers?

Physical facilities is something I only have to deal with occasionally, but I've heard that described as a stagnation return. You can either build an enclosed return-air plenum over the racks, and try to actively manage the flow of server-heated air, or you can let it all float up into a homogenous mass of warm, and let the air handlers pull out of that. If you things that way, the higher the ceiling, the further the racks are from their own exhaust heat.

Looking at these, I'm kind of surprised at how little active airflow management they seem to be doing. I'd have bet they'd have been using some style of sealed, forced chimney rack or at least an enclosed hot aisle. It certainly looks like they're ignoring potential savings. But one thing I'm certain of, they have people who understand these things way better than I ever could, and none of this was designed thoughtlessly. I'd love to see a recap of the engineering that went into this, so that the rest of us could learn from it, but I doubt they'd share that kind of advantage.

Good ghod, does anyone else remember when the coolest thing about search infrastructure was yahoo.akebono.stanford.edu's lego server case? The Internet makes the development of the airplane look slow.
posted by CHoldredge at 4:02 PM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


What, no pictures of the trash compactor?
posted by homunculus at 5:52 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The picture of the color-coded pipes -- hey, I remember that screensaver!
posted by JHarris at 6:37 PM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Those are the cleanest mechanical rooms I've ever seen. The housekeeping pads are immaculate. I wonder who does their DDC.
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:39 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure they wouldn't put pictures up unless everything was particularly in order that day.
posted by JHarris at 6:52 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I once had a customer call me out for my shitty cable dressing in the middle of a project. My boss had a senior engineer go out with me to take a look at the rack. He did, and then lit up a cigarette, right there in the data center, narrowed his eyes, and told the customer to try to do better.

This guy was a freak, his hands a blur, zip-ties at the ready, dikes holstered to snip them off with precision. The cables were perfectly dressed, like the mane and tail of an expensive show horse.

*puff*

*puff*

"The feed server is too far from the router. Cable won't reach. You gotta undo all that shit."

"But... I'm done!"

"No, you wasn't... Neither was our guy. I'll be back in a week. You can try again then."
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:53 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ms. Mitchell is one of their hardware engineers apparently. I would be surprised if this was left up over her objections

Yeah, I'm sure everything was carefully staged. Nobody in the place got the standard face blur. If It it were me,I would insist on the face blur so I would be the only one blurred.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:45 PM on October 17, 2012


This seems like an obvious attempt to get out in front of the recent series of stories in the NY Times about the environmental costs of data centers, by rebranding them with a Googly sheen.

So the Internet really is a series of pipes...

Y'know, Ted Stevens was a venal jerk, but he took a lot of flak for that remark on the Internet when in fact using the term "pipe" as a metaphor for network throughput was extremely common amongst network engineers at the time. I don't think Stevens thought they were literal pipes any more than did Vincent Cerf and the like.
posted by whir at 9:16 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Google in The Dalles: http://goo.gl/maps/vUkSb
posted by slab_lizard at 10:12 PM on October 17, 2012


Which consists largely of "plug things in, shove cables towards the wall periodically with feet."

... looks over in shame at home theater system / network cabinet and Cthulian jungle of cables sprouting around it...


I wonder if I could get some of these printed poster-sized and just paste them over that wall.
posted by formless at 10:20 PM on October 17, 2012


This seems like an obvious attempt to get out in front of the recent series of stories in the NY Times about the environmental costs of data centers, by rebranding them with a Googly sheen.

These kinds of data centers are far more energy efficient (along with everything-else efficient) then your standard corporate data center.

Obviously, though they do take power. But all the laptops/desktops out there probably waste far more total energy.
posted by delmoi at 2:46 AM on October 18, 2012


This seems like an obvious attempt to get out in front of the recent series of stories in the NY Times about the environmental costs of data centers, by rebranding them with a Googly sheen.

If you read the Wired article linked to above, you'll see that Google data centers have always been very efficient. It's a requirement to make them affordable, if nothing else.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:32 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of these images might be faked.
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:56 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. This one is so blatant. The markings on the floor, the identical chips out of the pillars, the identical scratches on the pipes. Nice that Edgar Martins is finding work again, I guess.
posted by straight at 8:12 AM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This one is fake mirrored (look at the labels). And so is this one.
posted by straight at 2:19 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Beautiful ... but everything pales in comparison to the MareNostrum supercomputer in the Barcelona Supercomputing Center ... which is housed inside Chapel Torre Girona.
posted by bhance at 3:52 PM on October 18, 2012


This one is fake mirrored (look at the labels). And so is this one.

Wow, I'm amazed they didn't think people would notice. In order for those images to be real, Google would have had to ordered mirrored motherboards. (i.e. green and amber LEDs reversed) The frames their in would have to be made in both left and right chirality (so hard drives/whatever those are on the left on some, on the right on others)

Oh, and they'd of course need to meticulously hang the cables in the same way as well.

And my favorite, I think, is the exactly mirrored LEDs on the routers on top. Since those tend to blink randomly, and really fast, the odds of that happening seem basically impossible.
posted by delmoi at 12:29 AM on October 19, 2012


straight, are you sure? delmoi's comment is fairly convincing, but there is a part of the first picture that's not symmetrical, namely the silhouettes above the grate at the top-middle of the picture.

If these images are fake, Google needs to be called out on it.
posted by JHarris at 12:39 AM on October 19, 2012


Hmm, I hadn't read the first comments you made. Yeah, it seems likely they're fake. Bad Google. What was that about not being evil again? Doesn't Photoshopping images of your datacenters and implictly claiming they're real photographs carry a non-zero evil value?
posted by JHarris at 12:42 AM on October 19, 2012


Looking at Connie Zhou's portfolio, she's quite into this "symmetry" thing. Her other pics do not looked shopped so there's some remote possibility that the end result was edited by some meddling middleman. But, like straight says above, I guess that she's indeed pulled an Edgar Martins here. How can these people think they can get away with stuff as crude as this with millions of people watching, and tens of thousands scrutinizing everything so that they can snark about it?
posted by elgilito at 1:29 AM on October 19, 2012


That reddit thread also suggests that the data center doesn't even look like this, that you would see the front of one rack and the back of the other row facing it.
posted by smackfu at 7:47 AM on October 19, 2012


Wouldn't that violate the idea of hot and cold aisles discussed in the Wired article if you had one row of servers blowing hot air out the back directly at the cool front of the next row?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:50 AM on October 19, 2012


I was being facetious with my comparison to Edgar Martins (and wanting to point out an excellent thread to anyone who hasn't read it). Unless Zhou has a manifesto declaring that she never photoshops her work, she's not in the same category. It's not like she sold these photos to a news organization. I don't have any expectation that a company's PR photos of themselves are raw and unedited.
posted by straight at 8:03 AM on October 19, 2012


JHarris, in this one, obviously some of it isn't mirrored (the guy at the end of the aisle, the ceiling area you point out) but the machines absolutely are. The labels are reversed and variously crooked in exactly the same way on both sides. The bits of metal have identical scratches. And worst of all, all the diffraction spikes of all the little lights are identically mirrored. I suspect they just wanted the lights to match up all pretty and in sync.

If you look at the grating above the aisle, I think you can see after the 2nd beam where it doesn't match up as it goes back, which I'd guess is where the transition is from the mirrored photo to the real one with the dude. (Although maybe those are wires? In which case they might really look like that.)
posted by straight at 8:15 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't have any expectation that a company's PR photos of themselves are raw and unedited.

Well, if we are supposed to go "wow, look at those amazing colored pipes", I hope someone didn't color in all the pipes in Photoshop.
posted by smackfu at 8:33 AM on October 19, 2012


Well, if we are supposed to go "wow, look at those amazing colored pipes", I hope someone didn't color in all the pipes in Photoshop.

What if they just tweaked the colors a bit to make them more vivid? (And what if that tweak actually makes the photo give you a better sense of how bright the colors seem in person?)
posted by straight at 2:11 PM on October 19, 2012


Exactly, you never know!
posted by smackfu at 2:32 PM on October 19, 2012


In the case of the blinking lights, it would be misleading to show a picture when all the lights on the right blinked on and all the lights on the left blinked off, as if one rack were switched off. How do you take a non-misleading picture of blinking lights?
posted by straight at 2:37 PM on October 19, 2012


I don't have any expectation that a company's PR photos of themselves are raw and unedited.

Yeah, but the interest of his thread is in the photos and that they represent Google's actual data centers. If these weird colorful rooms aren't as depicted, then what the hell is the point of this post? Take that away, and this just becomes just another lukewarm can of Pepsi Blue.
posted by JHarris at 4:59 PM on October 19, 2012


straight: In the case of the blinking lights, it would be misleading to show a picture when all the lights on the right blinked on and all the lights on the left blinked off, as if one rack were switched off. How do you take a non-misleading picture of blinking lights?
With a slow shutter speed.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:04 AM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


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