Google's Newest Data Center Opens to Serve You Search

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-05-21 Print this article Print

Today I had the privilege of attending the opening of one of Google's crown jewels: a data center.

This one was in Lenoir, N.C., nestled in the rolling hills of Caldwell County at 708 Lynnhaven St. Never heard of it? That's okay. Google likes it that way, nice and secretive. For perspective, Lenoir is about 70 miles northwest of Charlotte.

I was the only tech trade reporter in attendance. This post is a rough sketch of the event. I'll be coloring in more details for, both in text and via slide show (lots of good pics!).

I would love to tell you what kind of gear is in this data center, but as many of you already know, that's top-secret stuff. To say Google is reticent about what kind of hardware and software lives in these massive facilities would be an understatement.

On the drive in, I was stopped, in this order, by: 1) a Google security guard 2) a state trooper 3) another Google security guard 4) yet another Google security guard and 5) if you guess it, you get the prize.

Fifteen minutes later, I parked by the side of the data center itself and walked over to a cadre of folding chairs decorated in the requisite red, green, white and blue Google colors.

Another 15 minutes passed before the ceremony began, featuring two Google data center managers and two Caldwell County officials, as well as Lenoir Mayor David Barlow and North Carolina Governor Michael Easley (yes, it's that big a deal).

Just about every town in the United States is known for something. Lenoir and Caldwell County are home to tons of furniture stores and outlets.

Easley and co. outlined how important the data center is for the town, noting that the county is still recovering from the layoffs of 250,000 furniture factory workers between 2000 and 2002 (yes, that dot-com minirecession).

The data center created hundreds of jobs for citizens of the town and abroad. The Google data center guys couldn't provide an exact figure. There was a lot of that going around. Nobody seemed to know any vital stats. How many servers? How much electricity is consumed? I don't know and I don't know.

So, what did I learn? The project burbled up as an idea in 2005 for a way to stimulate economic growth after the county pulled itself out of the recession. It cost $600 million. Unlike its brethren in places like The Dalles, Ore., the Lenoir data center is not sitting on a river. Water to cool the servers inside is piped in from the local reservoir.

Neither Andy Johnson, Google's global manager of data center development (now that is a job with some serious purview), nor Tom Jacobik, Google data center operations manager for the Carolinas, would say how many servers are inside.

But they confirmed that the machines are running Bigtable, the Google Global File System and MapReduce.

These critical tools form Google's massive, distributed software infrastructure cluster, which just happens to serve search and applications the world over. In practice, a search query executed from a PC in Omaha, Thailand or Berlin could be routed to Lenoir for processing.

After the raps about how great Google is for setting up shop in Lenoir, Governor Easley and the Caldwell County development workers cut a ribbon to christen the data center, which is still unfinished.

Then, we were bused to the top of the hill overlooking the data center for a barbecue, complete with live music, demos of Google Search and Apps, and, of course, pulled pork, baked beans and hush puppies.

After the bus took me back, I went behind the building and snapped a few photos. Did I mention security at the datacenter was tight? It was practically presidential.

A security guy standing post God knows where saw me and radioed to another guard at the exit. I was detained and politely told I was not allowed to take photos. Oops. Then I was permitted to leave, with my camera, thankfully.


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