When it comes to storing stuff online, the options are endless: Dropbox, iCloud, Google Docs, MegaUpload (RIP), Flickr, the list goes on and on. But as the amount of data we produce increases – everything from tweets and calendar entries to Facebook chat history and YouTube videos – so does the amount of energy and resources needed to process and store it all in the cloud.
For today’s Internet giants, finding innovative ways to improve the efficiency of data centres is essential, not just for the environment, but also for the bottom line. Pike Research predicts that by 2015, investment in energy efficient server farms will reach $41 billion. Many companies have already begun to explore cutting-edge technologies to keep server farms costs down:
A group of Facebook engineers were given the challenge of building the mot efficient and economical data centre possible. With every aspect designed from scratch, the new Prineville, Oregon facility uses 38% less energy than other Facebook data centres and cost 24% less to build. To share their findings, Facebook created the Open Compute Project, an industry-wide initiative to promote an open-sourced approach to data centre engineering.
Google uses a variety of methods to keep its data centres around the world up and running. In Finland, they converted an old mill into the world’s first seawater-cooled data centre where cold water from the Baltic Sea is pumped through the building to cool it down. At its Georgia, USA facility, Google uses recycled waste water to keep things cool, and in Taiwan, air conditioning is used at night and a thermal energy storage system keeps the facility cool during the day.
Unlike other companies that use cold cooling processes to control temperatures, eBay runs its Phoenix, Arizona data centre at 115 degrees Fahrenheit (most data centres run somewhere between 65-80 degrees). With temperatures so high, they are able to use hot water to cool the facility, which significantly reduces the amount of energy used and the cost of operations.
Microsoft’s newly expanded data centre in Dublin, Ireland is cooled using air from outside of the building. The new facility doesn’t require any water for cooling, which make it 50% more efficient than traditional data centres.
The company’s data centre in Maiden, North Carolina runs primarily on renewable energy sources and utilizes chilled water storage and outside air for cooling. Apple says that new additions to the facility will include the country’s biggest end user-owned solar array and the largest nonutility fuel cell installation in the United States.
Illustration: Jeanette Mercado
It’s been approximately five weeks since Google opened the invites to try Google+ and estimates now have the user base sitting somewhere between 10 to 18 million (I know this is a far cry from Facebook’s 750 million users worldwide). With many regarding Google+ as the search engine’s attempt to go after the social market and take on Facebook, I thought I’d use this post to conduct a feature-by-feature comparison. I quickly realized that had already been done in the blogosphere.
I took a step back and asked myself: why would Google even attempt to go after Facebook? Surely they realize that being this late to the game puts them at a disadvantage. Then it hit me: what if Google really isn’t going after the social market? Instead, they have an entirely different plan around the use of Google+. One word resonated with me: convergence.
Why is convergence important? Simply, because it consolidates the many activities that a person normally does, using different applications and platforms, and groups them together to make them accessible through a single access point (being the cloud in this case).
To fully understand the idea of convergence in the Google landscape, let’s take a look at Google’s offerings:
Communication: With over 170 million active Gmail users it’s the second most used webmail platform within North America. This provides Google with a large base of individuals that actively communicate through this tool.
Collaboration: With it’s free Office Suite (Google Docs) available through the web, Google allows the user to share and collaborate on documents in real-time.
Platforms: The buyout of Android was a huge and surprising coup when it happened, however the move towards a mobile operating system provided Google with another platform in which to operate. With Android devices gaining popularity and the increasing number of apps available in the Android marketplace (including Google+), Google is looking to expand its reach.
Additionally, the introduction of the Chromebook has allowed Google to introduce its lightweight, Chrome operating system as an alternative to traditional operating systems such as Windows and Mac OSX. This development further entrenches Google in the area of cloud computing. With no applications stored locally on the machine and access only available via the Internet, all the user needs is a Gmail account to gain access.
This all leads back to the initial question, what does Google really have in mind with Google+?
Think about Google+ as being that collaborative layer that connects all of these applications and platforms together. By having a Gmail account, not only is communication taken care of, this account becomes the backbone for the authentication of Google Docs, Google+ (both web and Android app versions) and the main login for the Chromebook. Now imagine that both the Android and Chromebook have access to all the features of Google+ available on the respective “launchpads.” Having access to circles, and video chat, and combining that with the collaborative nature of Google Docs, it’s very easy to imagine a rich collaborative environment used by businesses and students to share work, complete group assignments and provide meaningful discussions.
So, if Google+ is built with convergence in mind, what can we expect next?