We build our own servers because it's more efficient: Google

The search engine giant's operations head says lower power bills are why it prefers that approach

Google, which is typically tight-lipped about the technology behind its datacentres, builds its own servers to save costs and because standard products don’t exactly meet its needs, the company’s senior vice president of operations, Urs Hölzle, says.

Hardware makers invest heavily in researching and developing reliable products, a feature that most businesses value. But Google doesn’t actually need very reliable servers because it has written its software to compensate for hardware outages, says Hölzle.

Instead of buying commercial servers, at a price that increases with reliability, Google builds less reliable servers at a cheaper cost knowing that its software will work around any outages. “For us, that’s the right solution,” Hölzle says.

Another reason that Google builds its own servers is equally simple: it can save costs on power consumption.

Energy efficiency is a subject Hölzle speaks passionately about. About half of the energy that goes into a datacentre gets lost due to technology inefficiencies that are often easy to fix, he says.

The power supply to servers is one place that energy is unnecessarily lost. One-third of the electricity running through a typical power supply leaks out as heat, he says. That’s a waste of energy and also creates additional costs in the cooling required because of the heat added to a building, he says.

Rather than waste the electricity and incur the additional costs for cooling, Google has power supplies specially made that are 90% efficient.

“It’s not hard to do. That’s why to me it’s personally offensive [that standard power supplies aren’t as efficient]”, he says.

While he admits that ordering specially made power supplies is more expensive than buying standard

products, Google still ultimately saves money by conserving energy and cooling, he says.

Google has datacentres scattered around the globe but is usually reluctant to divulge details of the hardware and software running in the centres.

Hölzle spoke to journalists during a visit to Dublin for the final day of the European Code Jam, a contest for programmers sponsored by Google in an effort to identify talented potential workers.

Google’s Dublin office is its European headquarters.

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