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"If power keeps increasing with performance, you'll end up where the power bill will cost more over the lifetime of the machine than the cost of what you paid for the server," Barroso said. "That is not good for anyone.

"It could result in interesting business models where you buy a server the way you buy your cell phone today. . . It's not unreasonable to think that you sign a contract with PG&E, and they will just give you the server if you agree to pay a certain amount for power over five years."

While it used to dispose of data center metrics after a few weeks, Google now collects and keeps just about every tidbit of information it can on system and component performance. The ad broker studies obvious areas such as system utilization and power consumption. It also digs into more unique items such as monitoring the health of certain types of disk drives over their lifetimes. As part of this process, Google examines drives from various manufactures running at a wide range of speeds.

Oddly, Google has found that running drives "a little bit warmer" actually seems to improve their reliability. The company also discovered that it's near impossible to predict when a particular drive in a system will likely fail, but it can figure out the "failure rates of an entire drive population".

Such knowledge can provide Google with a major advantage over competitors. (Your company would probably be quite well served by buying drives from Google's preferred vendor.)

Google speaks about these data center issues with the same passion as a company such as Sun or HP. In fact, Google has such a solid handle on the data warehouse concept that we wonder if it won't out-pace Sun, HP and IBM at delivering massive scale centers that other companies can tap to distribute their software.

Take, for example, HP. It's own internal IT transition will see the company move from more than 80 data centers to six centers in three locations. Part of this shift will result in HP running close to 50 per cent of its operations on the company's own blade servers. HP also plans to use a huge amount of virtual machines.

HP tells the world this because it wants to sell you blade servers and virtual machines. "If we're buying this, so should you."

That message must resonate with HP's traditional customers, but will it prove appealing to the web services crowd that's meant to be taking over the world?

You're told that future data centers will tolerate failures with ease, adjust to spikes in demand on-the-fly and support the software as a service model where code comes running out of your, er, internet tap. And, yet, isn't it Google and not the Tier 1s that seems closest to pulling off this vision?

Barroso's speech hasn't changed our life, and it shouldn't change your near-term data center plans. It has, however, made us think a bit harder about virtualization software, blades and the hyped like. Will such products really provide the basis for the utility computing model proposed by all the major hardware and software vendors? We're thinking not.

Google may look like an over-customized, one-off shop at the moment. But as data explodes, chip cores multiply, hardware costs fall and energy costs rise, it may well end up as the unavoidable standard.

You can find Barroso's presentations here. ®

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