Google’s Data Center Journey from CIA-Level Secrecy to Sharing Comptetitive Information in the Open Compute Project

Google joins the Open Compute Project along with Facebook
Google joins the Open Compute Project

Google has joined the Open Compute Project (OPC), and will share a new rack specification that allows OPC servers to fit in Google data centers.   According to the search giant, the 48-volt rack power distribution being shared has been found to be 30% more energy efficient.

The Open Compute Project was founded by Facebook in 2011 to provide an open source community for the data center world. Participation in the OPC and sharing data center efficiency strategies with cloud services competitors like Microsoft is a significant change in attitude for Google, who just a few years ago attached a CIA/NSA level of secrecy to their data center strategy and operations.

In his 2012 book Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, Andrew Blum explores the physicality of Internet architecture, the places where the digital activity occurs and connects. The author, who has written for Wired, Newsweek, and The New Yorker, serves as tour guide to the actual places that make up the Internet, from the connection to his home to the exchange points where networks hand off traffic to one another to the undersea cables that connect us all globally. Obviously, visiting a few leading data centers would be an important part of his research.

When Blum asked to see a Google data center he hit a brick wall. A defensive Google PR staffer allowed him to see the outside of a data center, the lunchroom of the facility, and not much else. Other organizations were welcoming, but Google saw their data center as a competitive advantage and they had no interest in sharing anything that took place inside beyond the selection of soft drinks offered.

Blum shared his frustration on Google’s stance, telling an interviewer, “out of all of the companies I spoke with, Google was the one that shared the least. Facebook, in contrast, was the opposite. They believed that this was your data. You, the public, had a right to understand where it was and what they did with it.”

Google began to show a little openness to the outside world in the fall of 2012, when the company allowed limited media access to their data centers and established a website that shared photos and other information on their facilities.   The timing of Google shedding some light on their data centers was likely hastened by Blum’s criticism, and seemed to be more than coincidental at the time.

The contrast of the stiff arm that Google gave Blum and others in the media regarding the company’s data centers less than five years ago with the decision to participate in an open source community is striking. In addition to satisfying curiosity, Google’s participation will be an illuminating addition to data center professionals seeking to obtain a greater level of energy efficiency as well as whatever else Google decides to share moving forward.