When Larry Page and Sergey Brin began work on a project called BackRub, they probably didn’t envision the enormous corporation that would grow out of their early efforts. This project evolved into Google, a juggernaut of a company that competes on a global scale with other mega corporations. While the company has products ranging from Web-based e-mail to collaborative office applications, its corporate mission has remained the same. Google intends “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” [source: Google].
Google’s search engine is the oldest and likely most famous tool in the company’s arsenal. But the engineers at Google view organizing the world’s information as a job too complex for just a search engine. The company designs tools and services that relate to its mission, sometimes in ways that aren’t obvious at first glance. One major focus for the company is cloud computing.
Google isn’t alone in offering cloud computing services. Companies like Apple and Microsoft offer products that either directly involve cloud computing services or rely on them in some way. Amazon, the online retail giant, has a thriving cloud storage business. That doesn’t mean Amazon has a warehouse filled with fluffy, white clouds. It means the company rents out storage space within its massive data centers. If you are running a company that wants to offer a Web site or service to customers, you may consider using a company like Amazon to host your data.
Google also has a reputation for building enormous data centers. In The Dalles, Ore., Google has a data center built next to the Columbia River. Each building in this data center is about the size of a football field. The location has many features that make it attractive for a data center: It’s near hydroelectric dams, which makes power accessible and economical. It’s also in an area with a fiber-optic network, which allows for lightning-fast data transmissions [source: Markoff and Hansell].
These huge facilities are necessary for Google to carry out its corporate mission. Not only must the company search and index the world’s information on the Web but it also has to provide the power for a growing network of cloud computing services. Now, let’s take a look at exactly what cloud computing means.
Cloud computing is a popular buzz term in technology circles. The phrase has a vague sound to it. What exactly is cloud computing?
At its most basic level, cloud computing is a model for remote computer access. The idea is simple: You use your computer and an Internet connection to make contact with a remote server. This server, which is really just a computer, runs applications using its hardware. You’re able to influence the application by executing commands through a Web browser or other user interface. But the remote server is doing all the heavy lifting.
Why would you want to use a cloud computing system? One reason is that it lets you access applications your own computer might not be able to execute. Your computer only has to run a Web browser or simple user interface. In most cloud computing applications, this client-side program places minimal demands on your machine’s resources. That means you can take advantage of a variety of programs and services without having to continually invest in the fastest computers. Since the cloud computing service is handling all the processor work, you just need a machine capable of connecting to the Internet.
Another major selling point for cloud computing services is that they allow you to access your data on a variety of devices no matter where you are. If you rely on your own computer to execute programs, you’re limited to that machine unless you make special arrangements. You may have to e-mail a file to yourself so that you can access it on another device. You may have to set up a home network to allow file transfers between machines. And there’s the risk that you’ll duplicate the file in the process, which can be confusing further down the road — which file is the real one? Cloud computing services store your information on remote servers. You can log into the cloud computing service using your account login and password. You don’t have to use the same computer or device each time.
Google is in a particularly good position when it comes to cloud computing. It’s a large, stable company, which means customers can be reasonably confident that their services and data won’t disappear overnight. Its leadership team includes engineers who know how to create solutions for computer centers. And the company has demonstrated that its philosophy of using inexpensive equipment rather than cutting-edge machines works.
Next, we’ll take a closer look at how Google creates a cloud.