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Google Reveals "Secret" Server Designs 386

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the so-secret-everybody-knew dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Most companies buy servers from the likes of Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM or Sun Microsystems, but Google, which has hundreds of thousands of servers and considers running them part of its core expertise, designs and builds its own. For the first time, Google revealed the hardware at the core of its Internet might at a conference this week about data center efficiency. Google's big surprise: each server has its own 12-volt battery to supply power if there's a problem with the main source of electricity. 'This is much cheaper than huge centralized UPS,' says Google server designer Ben Jai. 'Therefore no wasted capacity.' Efficiency is a major financial factor. Large UPSs can reach 92 to 95 percent efficiency, meaning that a large amount of power is squandered. The server-mounted batteries do better, Jai said: 'We were able to measure our actual usage to greater than 99.9 percent efficiency.' Google has patents on the built-in battery design, 'but I think we'd be willing to license them to vendors,' says Urs Hoelzle, Google's vice president of operations. Google has an obsessive focus on energy efficiency. 'Early on, there was an emphasis on the dollar per (search) query,' says Hoelzle. 'We were forced to focus. Revenue per query is very low.'"
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Google Reveals "Secret" Server Designs

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  • The New Mainframe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmai ... m minus language> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:07AM (#27431717) Homepage Journal

    Most people buy computers one at a time, but Google thinks on a very different scale. Jimmy Clidaras revealed that the core of the company's data centers are composed of standard 1AAA shipping containers packed with 1,160 servers each, with many containers in each data center.

    Mainstream servers with x86 processors were the only option, he added. "Ten years ago...it was clear the only way to make (search) work as free product was to run on relatively cheap hardware. You can't run it on a mainframe. The margins just don't work out," he said.

    I think Google may be selling themselves short. Once you start building standardized data centers in shipping containers with singular hookups between the container and the outside world, you've stopped building individual rack-mounted machines. Instead, you've begun building a much larger machine with thousands of networked components. In effect, Google is building the mainframes of the 21st century. No longer are we talking about dozens of mainboards hooked up via multi-gigabit backplanes. We're talking about complete computing elements wired up via a self-contained, high speed network with a combined computing power that far exceeds anything currently identified as a mainframe.

    The industry needs to stop thinking of these systems as portable data centers, and start recognizing them for what they are: Incredibly advanced machines with massive, distributed computing power. And since high-end computing has been headed toward multiprocessing for some time now, the market is ripe for these sorts of solutions. It's not a "cloud". It's the new mainframe.

    • Re:The New Mainframe (Score:5, Interesting)

      by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:14AM (#27431867)
      But wasn't the mainframe just the old cloud? I seem to remember there was a reason we moved away from doing all the processing on the server back in the 80s.. If only I could remember what it was.
      • Re:The New Mainframe (Score:5, Interesting)

        by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmai ... m minus language> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:22AM (#27431987) Homepage Journal

        I don't know which 80's you lived through, but mainframe processing was alive and well in the 80's I lived through. Minicomputers were a joke back then, and were seen as mostly a way to play video games. (With a smattering of spreadsheet and word processing here and there.) In the 90's, PCs started to take hold. They took over the word processing and spreadsheet functionality of the mainframe helper systems. (Anybody here remember BTOS? No? Damn. I'm getting old.)

        Note that this didn't retire the mainframe despite public impressions. It only caused a number of bridge solutions to pop up. It was the rise of the World Wide Web that led to a general shift toward PC server systems over mainframes. All we're doing now is reinventing the mainframe concept in a more modern fashion that supports multimedia and interactivity.

        Welcome to Web 2.0. It's not thin-client, it's rich terminal. The mainframe is sitting in a cargo container somewhere far away and we're all communicating with it over a worldwide telecom infrastructure known as the "internet". MULTICS, eat your heart out.

        • Derr... minicomputers should say microcomputers. My old brain is failing me. Help! Help! Help! He-- wait. What was I screaming for help for again?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Oloryn (3236)

          Anybody here remember BTOS?

          Actually, yes. I just can't remember where I got to play with the B20s.

        • by divisionbyzero (300681) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @12:32PM (#27433273)

          Not quite. While these server farms in a box are fault-tolerant they are not fault-tolerant in the same way as at least some mainframes where the calculations are duplicated. With mainframes you'd have wasted resources (doing every calculation twice) with lower latency. With server farms in a box you get, arguably, better resource utilization (route around something that is broken but wait till it breaks before doing so) but higher latency. The difference is incorporating the way the internet works into "mainframe" design.

          • Re:The New Mainframe (Score:5, Informative)

            by es330td (964170) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @03:34PM (#27436125)
            You forget that fault tolerance is not of utmost importance to Google. I read an article somewhere that said, in essence, that since these are search results, and not financial transactions it is okay if some parts of the overall network don't know everything that every network knows. Having access to 95% (or 99%) of the data is still acceptable in the search world.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Disclaimer: I work at Google, though the stuff below is something anyone from a large web company could tell you.

              Actually the argument depends on the application, and Google does have some applications that make different tradeoffs. For search, availability is more important than consistency: A search on 99% of the data is still better than a 404 any time you don't have all of your servers available. However, for something such as billing (which occurs on every single ad click for pay-per-click ads), you'

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by anandsr (148302)

            Actually google does everything thrice (not unlike the Ramans). And returns the result that reaches it first. So in effect it is even more fault tolerant than the Mainframe. And it does them at different locations not on a single Facility (as opposed to a server or a 1AAA sized Container).

            You are underestimating Google.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bozdune (68800)

          What we've mostly been busy doing for the last 10 years is reinventing CICS. The same old business applications that generated bazillions in revenue and worked well under CICS have now been (painfully) rewritten to work on hopelessly buggy Web browsers across the public net.

          Congratulations, but... whoo hoo.

      • Re:The New Mainframe (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:55AM (#27432585)

        Technology sways back and forth, and there is nothing wrong with that.

        1980s 2400/9600 bps Serial connections displayed the data that the people wanted fast enough for them to get their work done. And the computer had a lot of processing that can handle a lot of people for such simple tasks. And computers were expensive heck it was a few thousand bucks for a VT terminal.

        1990s More graphic intensive programs are coming out, Color Displays, Serial didn't cut it, way to slow. Cheaper hardware made it possible for people to have individual computers and networks were mostly for file sharing. So you are better off processing locally and allowed more load per demmand

        2000s Now people have high speed networks across wide distances Security and stability issues begin to happen so it is better to have your data and a lot of the processing done in one spot. So we go back to the thin client and server where the client actually still does a lot of work but the server does too to give us the correct data.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by eric76 (679787)

          1980s 2400/9600 bps Serial connections displayed the data that the people wanted fast enough for them to get their work done.

          We used to run a small company off of a single 2400 baud link with an 8 port statmux (statistical multiplexor) to a remote VAX minicomputer.

          It worked fine.

          heck it was a few thousand bucks for a VT terminal.

          If I remember correctly, a VT100 was something like $1,200 or $1,600. After a while, there were third party VT100 compatibles that were much cheaper.

          I bought a brand new out of t

    • Re:The New Mainframe (Score:4, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:16AM (#27431897) Homepage

      We're talking about complete computing elements wired up via a self-contained, high speed network with a combined computing power that far exceeds anything currently identified as a mainframe.

      By some measurements they exceed the computing power of a mainframe, by others they don't.

      • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmai ... m minus language> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:26AM (#27432065) Homepage Journal

        By some measurements they exceed the computing power of a mainframe, by others they don't.

        A fair point. However, I should probably point out that mainframe systems are always purpose built with a specific goal in mind. No one invests in a hugely expensive machine unless they already have clear and specific intentions for its usage. When used for the purpose this machine was built for, these cargo containers outperform a traditional mainframe tasked for the same purpose.

        • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @12:53PM (#27433633) Homepage

          When used for the purpose this machine was built for, these cargo containers outperform a traditional mainframe tasked for the same purpose.

          Well, I think it goes without saying that machine A (designed for a specific type of computing) will outperform machine B (not so designed) - and this will remain true whether A is a server cluster and B is a mainframe, or vice versa. And you need to keep in mind there are significant design differences between a server cluster and a mainframe, even when the mainframe is itself a clustered machine.
           
           

          However, I should probably point out that mainframe systems are always purpose built with a specific goal in mind. No one invests in a hugely expensive machine unless they already have clear and specific intentions for its usage.

          Huh? Here in the real world, mainframes are as generic as desktops - what determines what they can do is the OS and the applications. People buy mainframes because they need a mainframe's capability. (And container data centers aren't exactly cheap either - nobody is going to buy them without a use in mind either.)

      • by Znork (31774) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @03:56PM (#27436431)

        by others they don't.

        Seriously, I've fairly recently gone through every single benchmark, comparison, inference, etc, that I've been able to find on the subject (they're not exactly sprinkled all over the place) and I can't find any indications anywhere that mainframe hardware can surpass modern commodity hardware on any measurement. On price/performance variants it's not rare to see it outclassed more than an order of magnitude, and in absolute performance, well, there's very little magic hardware in the mainframe either anymore, it's pretty much the same silicon as anywhere else; Power CPU's, DDR infiniband, CPU to SC bandwidth almost equivalent to Hypertransport, same SAN as is used anywhere else, and as far as I can tell, to my horror, DDR2 533 memory(??). Please, correct me if I'm wrong and I very well may be, because actual specs aren't exactly flaunted. I mean, it's nice enough, but it's hardly magic.

        Sure, there's the old trick of moving system and IO load into extra dedicated CPUs, but that's becoming less and less relevant as pretty much any significant IO load has long since moved to dedicated ASICs that do DMA on their own without any CPU cost, and things like encryption accelerators aren't that hard to find. And it's not like you're not paying for the assist processors.

        Two or three years ago it might have been conceivable that it could have had at least a possibility of being superior in consolidation capabilities like being able to have the most unused OS instances running at a time, but with paravirtualized xen-derived tech commodity x86 hardware can accomplish the same or higher density. I can't say I've tried running 1500 instances, but for fun I did try running 100 instances on 5 years old junked x86 hardware which went fine until I ran out of memory at 6GB on the (like I said, junk) hardware in question. No significant performance degradation in relation to load versus what could be expected of the hardware, all 100 instances fully loaded both IO and CPU for a week to test for any throughput issues or over-time degradation, but that worked as well.

        IE, no practical limit for any non-contrived consolidation situation, and I have no doubt that it scales fine up to 1500 instances on reasonably modern hardware as well as it did on that hardware (and if you need higher density than that you should seriously be considering why you're using that number of OS instances that don't appear to actually be doing anything or consider moving to system-level virtualization like vserver or openvz)).

        So have you found any measurements that I couldn't find that you could point out that demonstrate lingering categories in which a mainframe might consistently outperform commodity hardware (ie, any measurement that is or can be compared to another at least somewhat related measurement on commodity hardware which demonstrates an advantage for the mainframe)?

        Outside pure performance there is the in-system redundancy which is nice in theory but which in practice seems to rarely result in higher actual uptime (mainframes appear to require an inordinate amount of scheduled service time and admins often engage in a disturbingly high IPL frequency).

        There is also the consistent load levels they tend to get (which seems to be largely due to culture, load selection and ROI requirements, rather than any inherent capacity), but beyond that it seems that the remaining aura of capability doesn't have much basis in reality anymore.

    • Arguably, APC has become a mainframe vendor. [apc.com] They sell rack systems with integrated power, cooling, and cable management. Add commodity motherboards, CPU parts, disk drives, and software, and you have a mainframe. It's not that different from what HP or SGI or IBM or Sun will sell you. Especially since the "mainframe" vendors have mostly moved to commodity CPU parts.

      I've pointed out before that computing is becoming more like stationary engineering. [local39.org] Stationary engineers run and maintain all the equip

  • Patents & Catch-22 (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:09AM (#27431769) Journal
    From 2007 [slashdot.org], the modular data center patent [uspto.gov] (where the bottommost image of the article comes from). There's no lack of patents [uspto.gov] revealing piece by piece how their power management setup works.

    Ah, the catch--22 of the patent--being forced to reveal your hand in order to protect it while underpaid workers at Baidu figure out how to integrate your ideas into their hardware.
    • by Shivetya (243324) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:16AM (#27431903) Homepage Journal

      considering some of the mini's I worked on had similar setups in additions to external UPS.

      then again, we achieve all sorts of power, cooling, and reliability, when we consolidated many "pc" style servers into minis which do the same work. (the heat change alone was staggering)

    • by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate&gmail,com> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:38AM (#27432273)

      Ah, the catch--22 of the patent--being forced to reveal your hand in order to protect it while underpaid workers at Baidu figure out how to integrate your ideas into their hardware.

      That's not a catch-22, that's the point. In exchange for everyone learning from what you've done, you get society's protection for a limited number of years.

      Also, the workers at Baidu are not underpaid- if they where, they'd leave for better oppurtunities. The workers in question have obviously decided they're better off making stuff for google- they don't need your 'superior' judgement to tell them they should go back to subsistenance farming or melting hazardous materials for precious metals in their homes.

      A decision to work, or not to work, and to hire, or not to hire, are based on realistic alternatives, not what some westerner sitting at a keyboard 9,000 miles away thinks is best.

    • There's only so many places you can connect a battery to a PC and all of them have already been implemented by someone at some point. There's been motherboards with second power connectors, motherboards with battery connectors, power supplies with batteries, power supplies with battery connectors, DC power supplies connected to external batteries, integrated UPS systems which take in and put out AC and which are basically just hooked up in line with the power supply... Off the top of my head I immediately t

  • Kidding Me? (Score:5, Funny)

    by wtbname (926051) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:10AM (#27431771)

    he said. "I worked 14-hour days for two and a half years,"

    Get that man a beer.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chyeld (713439)

      You parsed it wrong: he worked 14 'one hour days' over two and a half years.

      On the other hand... getting away with that deserves a beer too...

  • Pretty cool stuff (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sethus (609631) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:13AM (#27431833)
    I'm no guru of servers, but from my own limited experience in installing servers at the small to midsized company I work at, space is always a looming issue. And shrinking the size of the UPS you need can only save money and space in the long run; which any IT manager will tell you is a huge benefit and a great selling point.

    Nothing to do but wait for a finished product at this point though.
    • Re:Pretty cool stuff (Score:4, Informative)

      by gbjbaanb (229885) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @12:46PM (#27433505)

      then you need to move your offices to the middle of a desert. Space problem solved :)

      SMEs often get themselves a small server room, and don't plan for expansion. When the time comes to stick more servers in, they usually have to put them in an office instead, with non-redundant power, little cooling. You're not alone there, but it doesn't necessarily apply to datacentres.

      Space at datacentres is often the least of their worries nowadays, (it used to be different), but power is the big problem. Even the DCs in the middle of the metropolis has enough space to fit a few servers, but they can't get the power to them if they did.

  • No way (Score:2, Redundant)

    by flyingfsck (986395)
    Greater than 99.9% efficiency? They likely made a mistake in their measurements.
    • Re:No way (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:28AM (#27432121)

      Greater than 99.9% efficiency? They likely made a mistake in their measurements.

      Maybe they measured 99.92% efficiency.

      That is greater than 99.9% efficiency and they aren't breaking any laws of thermodynamics.

      • Re:No way (Score:4, Informative)

        by mftb (1522365) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @12:06PM (#27432789) Homepage
        They'd still have a computer there that is staggeringly efficient, especially since a computer's output energy is entirely heat - information is not energy, computers are all 0% efficient. Still, this isn't what they meant and the 99.9% figure probably comes from battery in/out figures.
  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:14AM (#27431855)

    We all know the searches are actually being done by a large amount of people in suspended animation, being fed the corpses of the previous people.

    The thing about each server having its own battery is a cruel joke.

  • Onboard UPS not new (Score:5, Informative)

    by Y2K is bogus (7647) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:14AM (#27431863)

    The in-computer onboard UPS is not a new idea. I don't see how they could have gotten any patents on it since I used it have one of these (my day might still). The device I saw had a gel cell mounted on an 8-bit ISA card, full length. It had +5/12v pass through connectors for powering the drives and it powered the computer through the main bus. There was more logic to it, as it had some monitoring capabilities too.

    What's next, patenting a hard drive on a plugin board? Been there, it was called the Hard Card and put a 20mb HDD in an 8 bit full length ISA slot, a truly neat idea for upgrading old XT computers back in the day. You could make them work with AT computers too by putting a regular disk controller, without a drive connected, on the bus too and the BIOS would see the XT controller and boot from it.

  • No shit? (Score:5, Funny)

    by LordKaT (619540) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:22AM (#27432001) Homepage Journal

    When the weather gets warmer, Google notices is that it's harder to keep servers cool.

    Brilliant journalistic work there.

  • by rohis (248695) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:28AM (#27432115)

    Googles secret is that all there computers have battery.

    I think, it is called a laptop.

  • by zogger (617870) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:29AM (#27432129) Homepage Journal

    ...why desktops didn't have a built in battery deal that lived in an expansion bay. If you could even keep RAM alive for extended periods even with the machine shut down that would be spiffy as an option, let alone as a little general UPS.

  • by nebulus4 (799015) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:29AM (#27432137)
    look at the date the article was published.
  • 99.9% efficiency (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:30AM (#27432159)

    This is a questionable number. The best DC-DC conversion is around 95% so they aren't including voltage conversions from the battery to what the system is actually using.

  • by David Gerard (12369) <slashdot@davidg e r a r d . co.uk> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:35AM (#27432245) Homepage

    Many data centres expressly forbid UPSes or batteries bigger than a CMOS battery in installed systems - because when the fire department hits the Big Red Button, the power is meant to go OFF. IMMEDIATELY.

    So while this is a nice idea, applying it outside Google may produce interesting negotiation problems ...

    • by rotide (1015173) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:46AM (#27432427)
      Isn't the red button for safety of the employees? As in, I'm under the floor and somehow the sheathing on a power feed to the rack next to me gets stripped? I start to light up and someone notices and hits the "candy red button" to save me?

      Pretty sure if the fire department is coming in to throw water lines around, they are going to cut the power to the building and not to just the circuit on the datacenter floor.

      I could be mistaken, but I don't think a 12 volt battery backup in these applications are going to pose much of a "life" risk. Obviously you don't want to put your tongue on the terminals, but I don't think they pose the same threat that the power lines under the floor do.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Rich0 (548339)

        Pretty sure if the fire department is coming in to throw water lines around, they are going to cut the power to the building and not to just the circuit on the datacenter floor.

        Yes, but if they cut the power to the building the server room will still be fully energized thanks to all those huge batteries running the place. That's why they have the big red buttons - they kill all the power in the room so that there is no electrocution danger.

        As another posted indicated, commercial UPS systems typically have

    • by T-Ranger (10520) <jeffw@NOspaM.chebucto.ns.ca> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @01:59PM (#27434721) Homepage
      In Google case, Id say they just seal off the container and be done with it. If there is a fire, they bring in a new (40') box.

      But anyway. A rack mount HP UPS I installed in the past year has a stand-off that you can hook into the "Big Red Button System". I'm guessing such hookups are either standard on rack mount units, or at least it wouldnt be hard to find models with that feature.
  • You're probably thinking "man, these things are just too big, no one will want one for their home" but in a few years these things will be on everyone's desktop. Sure, the first few desks will be crushed, but I'm 100% sure they will make them fit nicely into your cubicle.

    From the diagram it looks like they just need to put a chair in there and you're good to go. Now to compile Counter Strike for this thing.

  • Anyone concerned that when a SLA batter is charged, hydrogen is one of the by-products?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rcw-home (122017)

      Anyone concerned that when a SLA batter is charged, hydrogen is one of the by-products?

      You're Doing It Wrong(tm). A sealed cell will only vent hydrogen if overcharged (at the cost of increasingly reduced cell capacity - you're not filling it back up with water!). An intelligent charger will eliminate any routine hydrogen venting, leaving only the occasional bad battery or battery hooked to a broken charger venting. Google is probably OK with that.

  • by wsanders (114993) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:46AM (#27432429) Homepage

    Hundreds of thousands of servers == thousands of dead batteries each month, since those batteries don't last more than a few years.

    Now I'd think their design could be gentle on the 12V batteries, since it's possible to design UPSes that don't murder batteries at the rate cheap store-bought UPSes do. But still, they must have an army of droids swapping out batteries on a continuous basis.

    Or maybe they are more selective, and only swap out batteries on hosts that have suffered one or two outages. It only takes one or two instances of draining a gel cell to exhaustion before it is unusable.

    • by WPIDalamar (122110) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:52AM (#27432553) Homepage

      Or maybe they think bigger...

      They're deploying containers of servers. Maybe when a container gets a to a certain age or a certain failure rate, they replace/refurbish the entire container.

      I doubt they care if some of their nodes go down in a power outage as long as some percentage of them stay up.

    • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:57AM (#27432635)

      Hundreds of thousands of servers == thousands of dead batteries each month, since those batteries don't last more than a few years.

      I would imagine that the battery replacement schedule mimics the server obsolescence perfectly.

      LOL, when the battery catches fire, time to replace the server.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Now I'd think their design could be gentle on the 12V batteries, since it's possible to design UPSes that don't murder batteries at the rate cheap store-bought UPSes do. But still, they must have an army of droids swapping out batteries on a continuous basis.

      Given what has been said about Google's maintenance policies in the past, probably not. Google doesn't do detail maintenance - they wait till an entire rack (or now probably container) falls below a certain performance level, and then replace it with a

  • by Khopesh (112447) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:47AM (#27432459) Homepage Journal

    This is composed purely of commodity parts. The power supply is the same thing you'd buy for your desktop, those are SATA disks (not SAS), and that looks like a desktop motherboard (see the profile view where all the ports on the "back" are lined up in the same manner they would need for a standard desktop enclosure).

    Only the battery is custom (or even non-consumer grade), and you can note that since the power goes through the PSU first, that's DC power. DC is significantly better than AC, since the PSU then has to convert AC-to-DC (which wastes power and generates needless heat). While you can get DC battery supplies for server-grade systems, these are not server-grade systems. Built-in DC battery backup therefore affords them the ability to keep the motherboards cheaper. Very smart.

    Also, if you recall from a few months ago, Google has applied pressure on its suppliers (I'm not sure why Dell comes to mind...) to develop servers that can tolerate a significantly higher operating temperature (IIRC, they wanted at 20 degree (Fahrenheit?) boost). I wouldn't be surprised if the higher temperature cuts down on operating expenses more than smarter battery placement.

    • by erpbridge (64037) <steve@ e r p b r i d g e . com> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @12:22PM (#27433093) Journal

      Actually, looking at the battery, ir looks like the same exact type of battery as you'd find in an APC small (450-800VA) UPS. We also used the same batteries for emergency power in our door access systems to power the controller when I was managing those at a small college. That type of battery is widely used to compensate for short term power outages.

      I presume, given the amount of hardware shown (2 drives, 2 processors, motherboard, RAM) that the battery would probably last that given system about 7-10 minutes... plenty of time for the electric system to failover to the generator farm (you know they have more than 2 for redundancy.

      As to the lifetime on those batteries... I was replacing them every 3-3.5 years, maybe 4 if I was lucky. It's a standard generic battery, and the failure rate on them is quite low.

      I'd echo another user... If Google wanted to be smart, they wouldn't bother repairing a server when a component fails. Server obselescence at a company that can afford it is about 3-4 years... pretty close to the time for these batteries. They'd probably just pull the main power on it, and when a threshold of servers is "dead" in the container, they pull it offline for renovation... Either to repair the bad servers, or just retire everything.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:48AM (#27432485) Journal
    Dawned on me the other day how little innovation occurs in our industry EXCEPT by hungry companies. For example, Desktops and Laptops have not really changed, while both have a piss poor design. ABout 4 years ago, it dawned on me that a much better way to design these is to merge them. Basically, different cases where the laptop has keyboard and a monitor hookup while the desktop is sans the prior. The smart move is to move the battery OUT of the case and into the power supply. Right now, you do not get to buy variable amounts of batteries. But a company would do well to sell an external power supply with varying storage capacities, but with a simple 12V line. In this fashion, ppl can pick the parts for a laptop similar to a desktop, while the desktop gets to take advantage of the drop in prices of the laptop linage.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @11:48AM (#27432487)
    Peter Huber [manhattan-institute.org] in his book [manhattan-institute.org] on energy policy introduces the concepts of the "energy pyramid" and "energy refining". The thesis that new forms of energy technology use more technology and are subsequently more useful. The pyramid levels include wood, coal, petroleum, electricity, computing and optical. When I read the book a few years ago I always found it curious that he included computing in the pyramid. But I hear about aggregate gigawatts of hundreds of mass server farms in the world, it may start making sense. The web has transformed human technology and the server farms are the battery of the web. When Huber wrote the book he used the example of the automobile as it started being mostly petroleum energy, then acquired more electricity sub systems, and now more computing.
  • by wonkavader (605434) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @12:00PM (#27432691)

    I'm a little surprised by the keyboard and mouse port and the two USB ports. If it uses USB, why not just use that for the keyboard and mouse? And why the second USB port? I suspect the second port doesn't consume extra energy directly, but it causes air resistance where they'd like to clear path to drag air across the RAM and CPUs.

    And why the slots which will never get used? In quantities like Google buys, you'd think those would be left off.

    Maybe they don't make any demands on Gigabyte (the manufacturer) and just buy a commodity board? When they're buying this many, you'd think Gigabyte would be happy to make a simpler board for them. On a trivial search, I don't see the ga-9ivdp for sale anywhere, but maybe it's just old.

  • by 1sockchuck (826398) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @12:11PM (#27432907) Homepage
    Date Center Knowledge has videos of the secret server [datacenterknowledge.com] and a tour of one of the container data centers [datacenterknowledge.com].
  • Sigh... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ckaminski (82854) <ckaminski@poboxUUU.com minus threevowels> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @12:21PM (#27433071) Homepage
    Once upon a time, maybe 6 or 8 years ago now, I got to sit down with the CEO of APC and basically told him I wanted battery backed in-computer power-supplies, something small yet efficient. I wanted functionality like my laptop does, unplug PC, move it, plug it back in. Same for my servers (might have been when that whole Netshelter product line started up.

    Ah, too bad I kept no notes, no logs, could have made a fortune suing Google. :-)
  • by gweihir (88907) on Thursday April 02, 2009 @12:49PM (#27433577)

    I could design this PSU configuration, and I do electronics only as a hobby.

    First, your main PSU delivers 12V in this scheme. Then this is stepped down to 5V and 3.3V for mainboard use, a design that is already employed by some Enermax PSUs, for example. For the 12V line, remember that +/-10% lower is acceptable. The lead-acid battery delivers up to 14V, so you need a step-down converter to 12V. In fact, you can design a switching regulator that steps the input voltage down to 13.2V (12V+10%), if it is larger, and just passes it through for 13.2V...10.8V with very, very low losses. A similar design can be done for 5% tolerances. Modern switching FETs go down to 4mR per transistor and you can do the transition from switching mode to pass-through mode very easily, e.g. with a small microcontroller that can then also do numerous monitoring and safety things. I had actually considerd such a design (purely analog though) for a lower-power, 12V external supply system myself some years ago, but a single UPS was so cheap that I did not went through with it.

    I do not mean to belittle the what the Google folks do, though. The real ingeniuity is relaizing you can do it this way on a datacenter scale when nobody else does it. The engineering is then not too demanding, at least for folks that know what they are doing.

  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Thursday April 02, 2009 @02:02PM (#27434779) Homepage

    patents on the built-in battery design

    Wait, my laptop has one of those too...

    In other news, is anyone else surprised that a built-in UPS is so slow to catch on for the desktop when notebooks have had it by definition for years? Sure, powerful batteries are expensive, but you'll wish you had one when a power blackout destroys half a day's work. It's one reason why I hesitate to get a desktop PC.

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