Google keeps its hardware cheap, simple

"Cheap and fast" hardware is the way to go, according to Craig Nevill-Manning, a senior research scientist with Google Inc.

Speaking at the 13th annual IBM Centres for Advanced Studies Conference (CASCON) in Toronto, Nevill-Manning offered some insight into the search engine company's processes -- including its lack of spending on hardware.

"Cheap hardware allows more computation per query," he said, explaining that the trade-off between software and hardware is that the software is written with the assumption that the hardware will fail -- so Google tries to keep the hardware simple.

"We want to exploit the processing and the power of the off-the-shelf hardware," he explained as part of a keynote address at the software developer conference.

This 'fast and cheap' mantra at Mountain View, Calif.-based Google resonates through the more than 10,000 servers used by query searchers worldwide, turning over more than 200 million search queries a day among four billion Web documents.

By using commodity PC hardware, which is similar to that of home PCs, Google buys cheap and builds high levels of redundancy into its system in an effort to compensate for the fact that one full day of Google use on a server is the equivalent of 40 machine years, Nevill-Manning said.

"Each server has many twins," he said. "Replication is needed for scalability."

This is where Google compensates for its use of inexpensive hardware: by ensuring that replication of the computers exists at many different levels and over a wide array of the various types of servers used in Google's data centers. As a result, there are many identical data centers around the world, Nevill-Manning added.

Because of the replication, maintenance on the servers can be taken at a slower pace, where some computers might not even be online within a week or more. The company also uses a monitoring system to watch the health of both computers and applications and knows instantly when there is a machine failure.

"Because the system is built this way, if a machine goes down, it doesn't have to be repaired right away," he said. "We can save money by doing this in a lazy fashion."

While the days of its garage operations and its cork-insulated aluminium data center racks are over, the company still believes in "fast and cheap," and continues to follow its mission of organizing the world's information, making it universally accessible and useful.

The mandate might seem broad, but the impetus to keep query searches relevant, while still being "fast and good," still comes with many challenges.

Nevill-Manning said that keeping the index server updated -- where there are over 390 million images stored -- is probably the most time-intensive task which is why the company hires a large team of people to do research in the quality of information retrieval.

When a query is entered into Google, it flows through several different servers including the index server and the document servers, where a short summary of the search results are provided for the searcher. All these servers are replicated.

The system is based on algorithms that are used to search for common links to Web sites, Nevill-Manning explained, which in turn delivers quick results.

As far as speed of the query results is concerned, he said that over time people using the search engine have increasing expectations of the pace a search should take.

"The amount of time a query spends in Google is small," he said. "Search in five years will be even more accurate and more user-centered."

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Allison Taylor

Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?