Google Goes Wi-Fi, WHY!?

By Ben Charny  |  Posted 2006-05-11 Print this article Print

Google presumably had a long time to get ready for its annual press day, when it invites 250 or so journalists into the Googleplex for a day of news scoops, time with Google's top three execs, lunch and some free pens.

The place glistened on April 9. An outdoor waiting area was picture perfect: lots of beautifully set tables, stocked with food, while friendly people with French presses served coffee. There was ample sunshine, a cool breeze, and lots of Googlers walking about for journalists to ogle.

Inside Building 40, where all the Google messaging was to go on, every conceivable need seemed taken care of.

But then came what it best described as "The Latest Proof Google Isn't a Wi-Fi Operator," a real-time wireless case study. You see, Google's wireless network, an important part of every journalist's work that day, was very unreliable.

To catch some people up, Google is experimenting with ways of going about attaching its services and powerful brand to the growing number of municipal Wi-Fi networks now delivering broadband Internet access.

Google would do well to learn from Press Day, 2006.

It would be one thing if this was some event at a place off the Google campus and out of Google's control. Or if it was a spur-of-the-moment event, and there was a loose wire somewhere, or if it was that too many people showed up. No, no and no.

This was Google executing a wireless power play in a perfect world scenario. And it couldn't pull it off.

The Press Day wireless breakdowns raises a set of much broader questions. If Google has problems in its own tightly controlled environment, what's going to happen, say, in Mountain View, where Google's building a free, citywide Wi-Fi network on its own, and is already having a few problems? So, the flub of Press Day isn't an isolated incident.

How about a much larger area, like San Francisco, where Google's working with EarthLink? It's a tough task for anybody. And already some people say even a wireless broadband expert like EarthLink might not be up to the task at hand in that hilly nightmare of a metropolis.

All this may or may not mean a thing to Google; after all, it will be making the ultimate decision about what to do with its Wi-Fi itch.

But if it were up to some attending Press Day, Google would file its Mountain View network under "ongoing pet project," stay out of EarthLink's hair in San Francisco, and focus on other goals.

The Wi-Fi Has Left the Building

"We know the Wi-Fi doesn't work," was the first such announcement from the Press Day master of ceremonies about 9 a.m.

Every journalist in attendance most likely had a different experience with the wireless network from that time on.

But it's a good bet that everyone at one point lost connectivity, had to wait for minutes to get online, had to relocate to another place in the complex to find some Internet, or had to continually reboot to find a network.

Once online, the network was slow, it kicked computers off or broke secure connections, thus interrupting any work in progress as applications began breaking down.

Google's IT people knew about the problems starting about 20 to 25 minutes before the event began.

The first thing they tried was rebooting some servers, which proceeded to disrupt even more journalists' hard-won connections.

In the end, Google was able to adjust using a brand-new network, set up on the fly to soak up any capacity pains. That can be viewed positively: The company could scramble to fix a problem that a lot of people seemed to be having.

But the fix was in no more than 15 minutes before the 6-hour event was over. While the fix meant an easier time going forward, it came 4 hours too late for a lot of others. |

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