Google Instant Costly as It Prepares for Mobile

Google Instant cost the search engine a lot of money to build, and it burns through a lot of hardware and software computing resources. But people like it, so it's going mobile this fall.

Google Instant, the predictive search technology the company launched last month to serve users results without making them hit the Enter button, is popular but costly.

Jonathan Rosenberg, Google's senior vice president for product management, asserted on the company's third-quarter earnings call Oct. 14 that not only was Instant not created to help Google make more money, but that "from a resource standpoint, it's actually pretty expensive."

Rosenberg also declined to explain what resources triggered those costs, so eWEEK asked Google Oct. 15.

A company spokesperson confirmed that Google had purchased additional computer servers to deliver the results, but declined to say how many new machines and what the cost was to not only build Instant but keep it pumping out queries with each tap of a keystroke as it does today.

"The cost of search has steadily increased over the years as we develop new innovations to serve users," the spokesperson said. "We can't give you a specific number of machines we've added to support this launch-other than to say this is technically demanding for our infrastructure."

This is par for the course for Google, which has historically declined to discuss how many servers it employs to fuel its data centers all over the world.

Hardware is hardly the only resources Google requires for Instant, which serves an average of five to seven times more result pages for some queries. The company uses some nifty software and packet traffic tricks. Those are a bit more public.

For example, the Google spokesperson said Google is reducing demand on servers by keeping the frame of the results page the same while dynamically generating new results within that frame.

This is what keeps Google Instant appearing so smooth and seamless as results appear and disappear from the screen with each keystroke. Google also built systems to control the rate at which Instant shows results pages in proportion to how relevant the pages are likely to be.

Also, the company's search infrastructure team deployed new server caches that can handle high request rates while keeping results fresh as the search algorithm crawls and reindexes the Web.

New client caches in Google's infrastructure include user-state data to track results pages already shown to a given user so as not to this refetch the same results. Read more about these complex infrastructure technologies here.

Meanwhile, the Instant team is working hard to port the Instant technology from the desktop to mobile devices. Rosenberg said on the call that users can expect Instant to come to Google Android, RIM BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone later this fall.

"It's relatively soon. Sometime this fall. Fall lasts a little longer in California though," he joked.