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Google abstains from blades, VMware and the rest of the hype

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Analysis Blade servers, virtualization software and fancy accelerators might be all the rage in the server business, but Google doesn't want any part of the hype.

Google will continue crafting its own low-cost, relatively low-performing boxes to support its software-over-the-wire plans. The ad broker looks to focus on lowering energy costs, improving its parallelized code and boosting component life spans rather than messing with things such as VMware and GPGPUs (general purpose GPUs). So, those of you buying into the software as a service idea might want to have a think about Google's contrarian approach when the likes of HP, IBM, Sun Microsystems and Dell come hawking their latest and greatest kit.

Okay, sure, basing your data center designs on Google's whims might not be the most practical course of action. Google builds new data centers at an astonishing pace and works on a scale seen by only the largest service providers.

"Our applications don't run on anything smaller than a data warehouse," said Google engineer Luiz André Barroso, while speaking last week at the Usenix event in Santa Clara, California.

By data warehouse, Barroso means a facility with software spread across thousands of systems. Google has announced at least four such $600m systems in the last few months just in the US. This type of scale has Google working on software problems, energy issues and component conundrums beyond the realm of conception for most companies. For that reason, Google has largely bypassed the Tier 1 server and software vendors' pitches.

For example, Barroso noted that he "loves" the people at VMware but doesn't plan to use their software.

"I think it will be very sad if we need to use virtualization," he said. "It is hard to claim we will never use it, but we don't really use it today."

Instead, Google relies on maintaining tight control over its entire software infrastructure from the OS level on up to the applications and management packages. It's constantly fine-tuning these systems to create a data warehouse that almost asks as a single, massive virtualized system.

And rather than waiting for ISVs to write multi-threaded code for dual- and quad-core chips out there, Google has decided to do much of the work on its own.

"We might be one of the few companies on the planet that throws software away and writes it from scratch," Barroso said.

Along those lines, Google recently acquired PeakStream - a start-up dedicated to improving the performance of software written in a single-threaded model on multi-core processors such as GPGPUs. Google sidestepped right past the GPGPU technology to have the PeakStream crew focus instead on improving Google's existing code.

"Our problems don't fit (GPGPUs) today," Barroso said.

Google is ready and willing to spend any amount of money to wring the last bit of extra performance out of its data centers. This attitude comes from a company struggling to keep AdWords, Gmail and YouTube powered. It also seems to come from a company that has hopes of sending even more software - say a client OS and all the accompanying applications - over the wire in the future, as far as we can tell.

Few, if any, vendors will be willing to match Google dollar for dollar in this race. Although, according to Barroso, Google's current experiments could end up as standard computing models. A PC in ten years "might have similar problems as a warehouse computer does today," Barroso said, noting the silicon makers' push to create processors with tens and even hundreds of cores.

In addition, Google's current battles with power consumption might lead to a new model for selling servers.

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