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Data Storage The Internet Hardware

Surveying the World of the Biggest Server Farms 106

1sockchuck writes "Rackspace said this week that it is managing more than 50,000 web servers, raising the question: who else has that many? Of companies that publicly discuss their server counts, there are only a handful that are near or above the 50,000 server mark, including 1&1 Internet, The Planet, and Akamai, as well as Rackspace. The larger totals are found among companies that don't discuss how many servers they're running. The leading suspects: Google, Microsoft, Amazon and eBay."
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Surveying the World of the Biggest Server Farms

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  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:25PM (#27960823)
    Figure servers per sq ft and add up their total datacenter sq footage. Googles a bit harder due to changing strategy over their current server lines but a good guesstimate shouldn't be too hard.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Doesn't always work. A lot of datacenters are not filled out because the power density of racks of modern servers is so high it can result in the datacenter exceeding the available electric service, if they filled out all of their space..
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by afidel ( 530433 )
        Should still get you in the right ballpark, few companies are going to waste huge amounts of money building empty datacenters =)
        • by Gorobei ( 127755 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:56PM (#27961451)

          A lot of datacenters get built in repurposed buildings - the square-footage is often misleading (some are even 60's era compute farm housing - 90% of the space may be unused.)

          For low-latency datacenters, you build in the middle of cities. Then you find square-footage really doesn't cover it: the fire-marshall shows up and red-tags you because he doesn't want a six mega-watt dense power sink in the middle of his premium real-estate.

          • by xp ( 146294 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @12:10AM (#27961939) Homepage Journal

            Also hopefully they are not counting virtual machines here.
            Slow Poke [pair.com]

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              Also hopefully they are not counting virtual machines here.
              Slow Poke [pair.com]

              It's almost guaranteed that they are talking virtual servers as well as some bare metal. Rackspace is talking about the 50,000 web servers that *THEY* manage--i.e. managed services. This figure likely doesn't include the thousands of rented colo machines which their customers manage themselves. The latter was Rackspace's first business model, a pure colo. It wasn't until relatively recently that they started offering managed services. It may very very turn out that the 50,000 server figure is the entir

        • Keep in mind that companies which use mainframes have seen a fairly large reduction in machine size over the past 20 years or so. Old water-cooled machines and rows of tape drives are being replaced with CMOS machines and tape silos, each taking of a fraction of the floor space that their predecessors did.

          When I started working for Northwest Airlines, for example, there were multiple IBM and Unisys mainframes sitting in the main computer center, all residing in a large temperature-controlled raised-floor r

    •     That's going to come up with some off numbers.

          There are oddities in there. Like, Google has some decent square footage with QTS in Atlanta.

          Is the number, the number of machines in house, or the number of machines managed by the company in house? Places like Equinix have huge facilities, but they don't manage them (except for helping hands support).

          Just because a company takes a bigger footprint, does that make them bigger? My old place had an Alexa rank in the top 300, but the main sites were served from maybe 24 machines set up for well over 10 million users/day, not including hot spares and ancillary equipment (DNS, mail, etc). That was unique users, not requests or page views. :)

          I know Quantcast has a huge footprint, but they're in someone elses facility. I think it was only one of a few DC's that they're in. I didn't know it was their equipment until I talked to one of their techs. It was a very nice setup. The conversation with my coworkers went "I want to set our stuff up like theirs. Too bad we have dissimilar equipment, it'll never look so good."

          Depending on who you're looking at, the footprint isn't the front end either. Places like Google, Quantcast, and many others have a LOT of non-public equipment for doing the fun stuff. Like Google has a slew of spiders crawling, analyzing, etc. It's perfectly likely the could (not necessarily do) get away with just a few dozen front end machines for Google.com, and pass the work off to back end machines.

          It's all in the strategy that they use. If you're a multibillion dollar operation, do you squeeze every bit of power you have out of a machine, or stay real low and spread it across many? For my old place, I set up to squeeze everything I could out of them, and then spread out across machines so we could lose machines (hardware failures usually) without hurting the site. We didn't have the budget (the bosses liked the profit), but if I had really wanted, I could have probably spread it across thousands of machines. It just makes for headaches and larger IT staffs to keep up with it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by 0x15 ( 852429 )
      Many of the production data centers I've worked on have been using VMs for web servers for quite some time (e.g. ESX 2.x). That includes one of the companies that is on the list of unknowns in the article. I'm surprised it wasn't addressed and that so many jumped to a physical server conclusion. However, even if the 50k servers are all VMs, that's a major management load. 50k of just about any configuration item takes some work.
    • by Venik ( 915777 )
      I am running 50,000 virtual servers on my three Dell laptops! Why am I not on the list? Seriously, are we counting physical machines or virtual ones? One system I support is a cluster of 80 HP 585s, each running eight virtual servers. So that's like 640 "servers" in just ten racks. It would be interesting to know who has the most servers in, say, kilograms as opposed to imaginary filesystems.
      • Depends...do you count raw tonnage of servers, or do you include the ancillaries like cable runs, UPS, cooling etc?

        Easy way to win:

        My Eniac replica, combined with my replicas of Mayan and Egyptian pyramids (purportedly used as astronomical computers...you know, by the illuminati, etc ;)) means that I win by sheer tonnage!

  • by Amarok.Org ( 514102 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:26PM (#27960833)

    They're using Netcraft to prove their server count - which reports on IP addresses. Just because there are 50,000 IP addresses responding to port 80, doesn't mean they have 50,000 boxes. The shared hosting arrangements can easily have dozens and dozens of "servers" operating on the same physical box.

    Yes, it's still impressive... but not as impressive as it would first appear.

    • by linhares ( 1241614 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:39PM (#27960919)

      They're using Netcraft to prove their server count - which reports on IP addresses. Just because there are 50,000 IP addresses responding to port 80, doesn't mean they have 50,000 boxes. The shared hosting arrangements can easily have dozens and dozens of "servers" operating on the same physical box.

      Not exactly what netcraft is saying right now [netcraft.com] from TFAL:

      Netcraft has developed a technique for identifying the number of computers (rather than IP addresses) acting as web servers on the internet, and attributes these computers to hosting locations through reverse DNS lookups.

      I suspect there's a power law in here, and that the estimates of google and amazon and others should be way beyond this, perhaps surpassing 500.000. That would be an interesting milestone.


      There's a widely circulated estimate of 450,000 servers, but that number is at least three years old. If it was ever accurate, it certainly isn't anymore, given Google's data center building spree. Google's recently revealed container data center holds more than 45,000 servers, and that's a single facility built in 2005.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ZosX ( 517789 )

        4 years ago. I wonder if all those boxes are still running right now? I wonder what google does when it retires servers.....it would be kind of cool to have a couple of bonafide google racks doing something cool at my house.

        • by m.ducharme ( 1082683 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:29PM (#27961289)

          If this [google.com] is to be believed, they salvage and rebuild as much as they can, and send the rest to recycling.

        • Plenty of years ago I was in a large datacenter, where Google had a cage full of their racks. These were the old DIY "4 MBs on a tray" systems.

          >it would be kind of cool to have a couple of bonafide google racks doing something cool at my house

          Let me tell you something, you don't want to have those servers in your basement, that setup definitely wasn't cool :) the amount of heat that came out of that row of racks was pretty enormous.

          OK, this was long time ago, I expect that Google's setup has chan

    • by nedlohs ( 1335013 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:42PM (#27960953)

      If you bother to RTFA you'll see it isn't a netcraft server count, but a mention in their SEC reported earnings something they are unlikely to just make up.

      The comparisons are with netcraft numbers. And those netcraft numbers are explicitly not IP address counts and have rackspace as way under 50,000 (which you would expect since many machines wouldn't be web servers (database backends, mail servers, etc) and many would be firewalled to not allow public access.

    • by trawg ( 308495 )

      The shared hosting arrangements can easily have dozens and dozens of "servers" operating on the same physical box.

      Dozens?! I worked at a web host like 8 years ago and we were running up to 400 servers shared on a single box. I assume you can squeeze on a hell of a lot more these days!

    • by ronsonk ( 612948 )
      50,000 OS instances (and I'm assuming that each web server is running on in their own instance) is still 50,000 that have to be managed regardless if they are on their own physical server. It is indeed impressive.
    •     You bring up the magic question, how many virtual IP's can be on one box? I don't know the limit on a Linux machine. I brought up an entire private /24 on one, just for the fun of it. So, if you considered that each of 50,000 machines had 254 IP's on them (a wild idea, but still), they could have just 197 machines.

    • No, they're using Netcraft for the companies that didn't release the information.


      Here's a look at some of the providers with high server counts, gleaned from public reports and partial data from a recent Netcraft server count report

      There's a little note after each company where the data came from, all of the top 5 came from the company itself.

    • by moon3 ( 1530265 )
      True, we have have about 3000-5000 webs running on single rack here. A high performance Opteron setup. Most people need only simple web that is hardly used, in real life most web pages are not accessed very often. If they happen to have some traffic (may be lucky 1% of them) they order dedicated servers anyway.
  • Are you trying to show who has the biggest dick in the IT world ? :3
  • Thats right, me. In fact I just set up #50,001. You'll never guess what I'm doing with them either.

  • Keyword: Evil (Score:2, Insightful)

    50,000 -- that's peanuts compared to the likes of Google or Yahoo etc... Here's a short article on the data center that Google is building (has built??) in Oregon.. http://harpers.org/media/slideshow/annot/2008-03/index.html [harpers.org]
    • by gmuslera ( 3436 )

      Probably big server farms, like the ones of google, yahoo, amazon, etc are orders of magnitude over that. There are estimates of 200k servers in 2005, or 450k in 2006 (according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]). By now could be the order of millons.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wwwillem ( 253720 )

        > By now could be the order of millons.

        Forget about "could be". According to IDC (feb 2009):

        "According to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker, [...] 2008 worldwide unit shipments grew 2.0% to 8.1 million units. [...]" [http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS21703309]

        With 8 million units cranked out in just a single year, there must be 30+ million servers "up and running" in current datacenters.

        Which is in sync with my experience with our customers. Ten years ago (which was the time of the dot

  • Yahoo? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by neoform ( 551705 ) <djneoform@gmail.com> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:39PM (#27960917) Homepage

    Seems to me the second largest search engine likely has 50k servers or more..

  • What about porn? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mishotaki ( 957104 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:40PM (#27960929)
    I'm sure some big porn websites(those that regroup many websites together especially) have quite a lot of servers...
  • From TFA (Score:3, Informative)

    by actionbastard ( 1206160 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:43PM (#27960963)
    Netcraft has developed a technique for identifying the number of computers (rather than IP addresses) acting as web servers on the internet, and attributes these computers to hosting locations through reverse DNS lookups."

    Apparently it's not just the number of webservers (just IP addresses), but the number of physical boxes these guys are running. If Netcraft's technique is valid, then it could be helpful in determining the 'true' penetration of FOSS based server installs on the Internet. This could severely impact the ranking of sites that are hosted on certain proprietary OSes.
    • by kmike ( 31752 )

      They also do not count non-HTTP servers:

      The survey does not attempt to count back-end servers (application or database servers) or servers other than web (HTTP) servers.

      One more thing: some hosting companies provide private network only servers, not visible outside of the virtual private network assigned to the customer. Perfect for the backend.
      Softlayer does that, for example.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Obviously, if you can count them, then you don't have all that many.

    "A million here, a million there and pretty soon you have a real server farm."

  • by Chris Snook ( 872473 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:23PM (#27961247)

    Most of them won't go into detail, but Wall Street firms have immense server farms. Some of them are limited in size by the amount of electricity the New York City power grid can supply them. They also have huge data centers in less prime real estate, but microseconds are dollars in the financial markets, so they try to keep as many of their systems as close to the action as possible. There are entire floors of NYC skyscrapers full of racks modeling the financial markets in real time, conducting transactions, and crunching numbers for human analysts.

    • by mudshark ( 19714 )

      There are entire floors of NYC skyscrapers full of racks modeling the financial markets in real time, conducting transactions, and crunching numbers for human analysts.

      Using flawed algorithms and crap assumptions as input. See where that got us.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        Using flawed algorithms and crap assumptions as input. See where that got us.

        These people don't have "maintaining a stable economy" as a goal. They have "making more money than the other guy". If the market drops more than they do, they consider themselves winners. They can trade into a position that will come up! Who cares what that fluctuation in the market means?

  • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:41PM (#27961367)

    ... Google how many servers it uses, does that mean it's self-aware?

  • by Leomania ( 137289 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:46PM (#27961399) Homepage

    I'm pretty sure the hosting company I had a few years ago (aka "kiddie hosting") had that many customers on the server that I was on. Does that count?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:49PM (#27961417)

    I have worked supporting Google's servers in one of my former employers data center. What I can tell you about there deployments is as follows:
    1) 20,000 Servers in our data center; they occupied 8 other sites (~160,000 servers). Our site was one of the largest.
    2) Over 30 GigE connections feeding into dual Juniper M20 later upgraded to Juniper T-320
    3) Yes they run a custom version of RH

    Now for the record; they had approx 160,000 servers in our companies data centers. I have met techs from other data centers which had similar counts. At a minimum I can confirm approx 160,000 and potentially 320,000 and up for other data centers; providing they mirrored their servers. It wouldn't make sense to put all your eggs (servers) in one basket. The time frame for these numbers was back in the early 2002.

    • Have you all missed the Slashdot story many months ago, where the reliability of HDDs was discussed with a study from Google?

      It said, that at that time, they were adding 100,000 servers a month to their data centers!

      They had, I thing 500k of them back then.

  • Sean Gorman mapped out the US fiber-optic telco fiefdoms, and mb spotted less redundancy than was claimed.
    Parts of his dissertation where "removed".
    He showed the choke points and critical links.
    This plot of the large server areas would be fun to map and then visit.
    Spot the NSA tap points :)
  • What are the current server specifications necessary to support 50K virtual instances of an O/S? How many boxes does that need to map down to in order to maintain sufficient redundancy and power efficiency? Now, how big a datacentre do you need to support that number of servers and hence what space/power/air conditioning requirements would you actually need?

    Google's container-based datacentre is about 1300 servers. If each of those is capable of running multiple instances, that would bump up the total.

  • by m0i ( 192134 )

    they had 40K at the last official count and their new datacenter has a 50K capacity and filling quick (+3 bays/day 7/7). Not surprising given they offer the cheapest dedicated one can find ($15/mnth no contract: Atom 1.6Ghz, 512MB ram/2GB flash for swap, 10GB iSCSI disk, unlimited bandwidth).

  • by hey ( 83763 )

    Never head of this company.

    • a huge hosting company from Germany, most customers are in Europe (but afaik they sell in the US, too).

      you sub-6-digits old-timers should try to accept the i18n of /. :P

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rbrausse ( 1319883 )

      sorry for the second reply but according to the homepage ( http://www.1und1.com/ [1und1.com] [in German]) the company has over 7.2 million customers in Germany, UK, France, Spain, Austria and the USA running on more than 55k servers.

  • Obviously they are talking physical number of servers, because why in the hell would they list number of virtual machines in a financial report? Who would care about that?
  • While I can't speak for the others, I know Microsoft are growing their online infrastructure hugely now; at approx rate of "one facebook worth of servers every month" as one guy told me.

    Most of it's consumer Live stuff, but there are plans to expand corporate services too so I understand.

  • by rlp ( 11898 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:09AM (#27964391)

    I imagine there is a fairly large server farm somewhere near Ft. Meade, MD.

  • All those WoW and Diablo fanboys have to go somewhere....

  • There are several companies and industry conventions devoted to efficiently building massive server farms. I went to an oil industry convention session on these last year (The energy industry is 6th largest sector of supercomputing for seismic exploration, oilfield simulation and credit transactions.) Server farms consume vast amounts of power in the CPUs and air conditioning.

    Modular expansion is fad. Server companies now recycle shipping containers as a row of racks with built in service, power distrib
  • Servers farms supply the commodity information for commerce and recreation in the early 21st century. Depending on what source you accept, they, along with client computers and video screens of all sizes, consume 3% to 10% of the US's energy.

    I shamelessly stole this idea from Peter Huber of the Manhattan Institutes recent book The Bottomless Well. The trend of human commerce over the past couple centuries was to use more energy in more refined ways: wood, coals, whale-oil, petroleum, electricity, solar
  • I had a phone interview with google around '05, I think, and was *told* by the interviewer that they had over half a million (physical) servers. I don't remember the exact number, but it was between 500k and 600k servers.


  • I know the company I work for GSI Commerce has one of the largest networks in the US, behind (if I recall correctly) Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart and Ebay. Now networks are not servers, but they have well over 100 partners that they represent with many's websites hosted by GSI. But still probably not anywhere near 50,000.

  • runs on ~300 servers. you don't need millions of servers to reach everyone and/or be useful.

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