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The humble beginnings of Google and its data centers: a cage next to eBay and enough for two million queries per day

Google is secretive about their data centers — only logical, as they’re a source of competitive advantage for the company — but they have some public pages about them, including a behind-the-scenes look and a location map of 12-13 established locations globally. (The Dalles, Oregon location has some awesome cooling towers.) You can also read about how they’re going green; if this entire thing seems boring on the surface, it probably is — but the flip side is that however boring this may be, it basically constitutes how you (probably) search the Internet, provided you’re not a Bing or Yahoo person or whatever. Since there are about 100 billion — with a b — queries per month on Google (possibly higher), chances are your search for “spelt pilaf” (got me!) just bounced off a data center in Finland or North Carolina (I think that’s how it works; I’m not really technically that savvy).

This is all a long way of saying that if you start a business or a project or anything and it isn’t instantly a success at this Google-esque level, don’t get discouraged. Here’s a cool article about Google’s first data center and the status of things back at the beginning of 1998 (basically the second-third year of Google’s existence):

Back then, the company’s data center was more like a small closet. Google’s eighth employee, Urs Hölzle, this week took a trip down memory lane to his first visit to the “Google cage” in the Exodus data center in Santa Clara, Calif. in 1999.

At the time, Hölzle wasn’t yet an employee of the search giant. He was there for a meeting with Google co-founder Larry Page, and it was his first time ever entering a data center.

“And you couldn’t really ‘set foot’ in the first Google cage because it was tiny (7’x4′, 2.5 sqm) and filled with about 30 PCs on shelves.”

Here’s an invoice from September 1998 for data center space. See the initials LP? That’s Larry Page.

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The deal with costing back then?

Fifteen years ago, a megabit of bandwidth set Google back $1,200 per month, and 1 Mbps was equivalent to about a million queries a day, he added. Google bought two megabits, though it didn’t reach that amount until around the summer of 1999.

Other fun facts? Page negotiated a special deal for crawl bandwidth. “Larry had convinced the sales person that they should give it to us for ‘cheap’ because it’s all incoming traffic, which didn’t require any extra bandwidth for them because Exodus traffic was primarily outbound,” Hölzle wrote.

This is cool as hell, even if I don’t understand all of it, and can be applied to literally any aspect of your life. Everything comes from humble beginnings, even search engines that now query 100 billion things in a month. Everything comes from side-deals with salespeople and two megabits of bandwidth, ultimately. Basically, this Google story is a small indicator that one should always keep their head up.

Ted Bauer

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