Source: DCD Analysis
The construction of the world’s digital infrastructure has been a uniquely collaborative affair, with governments, research institutions and corporations all playing their part in the creation of a monumental web of data centers, cables, towers, satellites and sensors.
But there are a few companies whose contributions to the whole has been unrivaled, firms that built networks responsible for a vast portion of digital traffic, and which are spending billions to extend their dominance even further.
“Fifteen years ago when I started at Google I didn’t imagine that we would be building the world’s largest network, or the world’s largest compute infrastructure,” Benjamin Treynor Sloss told DCD. As vice president of 24/7, his job is to keep Google online – all of it, from Search to Maps to Cloud Platform.
“If Google ever stops working, it’s my fault,” he said. “That’s my job. You know, one year at a time.”
Source: Chris Perrins/DCD
The growth challenge
When Sloss joined the business, he couldn’t predict how large the company and its infrastructure requirements would become. “I just knew that we had a set of things that we needed to do in the next three months and I could extrapolate out with a great deal of confidence for the next two to three years.”
At Microsoft, the experience was similar for David Gauthier, the company’s senior director of data center strategy and architecture. “I’ve been at Microsoft about 19 years, and I’ve been involved in our data center infrastructure that whole time,” he told DCD.
“It’s been quite a journey – coming up from the early days of Microsoft, with MSN, and then the original push into algorithmic search with Bing. We thought we were hyperscale back then: I don’t think we had any real grasp of what was coming. This thing has just taken off in a way that is really unique to any industry.”
Google, too, has had to deal with extraordinary growth, further exacerbated by its entry into the cloud services market. “As we started to offer a public cloud product we used the same data centers and really the same infrastructure, the same network, same servers, the same everything, that we were already using,” Sloss said.
His goal, now, is to enable Google Cloud Platform customers “to build a service with the same availability and the same performance and the same feature richness as Google Search or Gmail.”
Handling this challenge requires a careful balancing of ideas, roadmaps and priorities, Sloss said, likening his job to that of a portfolio manager. “I’ve got 5,000 people in my team, and in each area I’ve got some people working on things that are not needed in the next three to six months.”
A lot of Google staff are working on iterative improvements and things that will “eventually become forced moves,” while “a fair fraction” are focused on “larger leaps that have a lower probability of success,” Sloss said. “The two halves have to go hand in hand.”
Employees are encouraged to follow Google’s 70-20-10 philosophy (70 percent on core business, 20 on core related projects and 10 on unrelated projects). “We invest in a number of those [further out] efforts each quarter in order to get the few that actually do pan out, to turn into projects that can move the needle quite significantly.
“For example, using machine learning to make huge power efficiency gains – the person who proposed that was from one of the iterative teams,” Sloss said. In 2016, Google’s DeepMind division announced it had achieved a 15 percent improvement in power usage efficiency (PUE) at one of the company’s data centers.
Details are limited on how widely Google has adopted the algorithm: “I would say this: It is being rolled out, and we will continue to roll it out as we build or retrofit new data centers. But if you were to look at the majority of data center capacity that we have at this point, they’re already benefiting from it,” Sloss said.
As for Microsoft, Gauthier said: “We’re all using AI and machine learning to optimize our infrastructure, bringing down the energy consumption and the water and other resource consumption.”