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Google keeps killing penguins for money

Can the Earth survive its secrecy?

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Comment On the grand list of things that Google cares about killing penguins to save a few bucks ranks higher than making the world a greener place.

Google, like so many other companies, has given Mother Earth the big squeeze in a variety of ways. Some of its buildings run on solar power. Employees ride company-provided buses to work. And Google, along with Intel, backs the Climate Savers program, which tries to encourage companies and consumers to buy more efficient power supplies and to turn on the power-saving tools included with PCs.

That's all great, and not a day goes by without us celebrating Google as a leading corporate citizen. From our office in Mountain View, we always salute Larry and Sergey's party plane, as it comes in for landing at NASA Ames.

But here's what Google is not doing to help mankind.

The company claims to perform all kinds of magic to ensure that its data centers are the most energy-efficient computing houses around, saving Google millions of dollars per year on electricity. Yet the super-secretive ad broker continues to reveal precious little about these data center tweaks.

If Google is actually successful at lowering power consumption, then the secrecy makes sense. It sees the tweaks as a competitive edge over companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo!, which also consume immense volumes of gear and power.

At what point will Google decide that all service providers should have a chance to benefit from its knowledge for the betterment of mankind?

You have Google and Intel spending a decent chunk of change on something like Climate Savers to effect industry-wide improvement in power savings. They're trying to convince other to take the high road for the sake of the children and the penguins.

But, away from the microphones and TV cameras, Intel builds custom motherboards for Google. It's quite the special service, ensuring that Google has the lowest energy designs possible - a service not afforded to all customers.

Google does on occasion share some information about its data center operations. This data usually comes from engineers Luiz Andre Barroso and Urs Hölzle.

These guys love to talk about Google's failures - studies conducted around how often memory or disk drives go down. They even release some figures about how many failed systems Google sees and possible approaches for improving the life-span of data center gear. So, that's helpful, but it's not really Google's failures that we're after.

Barroso's website does include a presentation (PDF) on power efficiency. For the most part, the paper covers Google's issues in broad terms, and there's almost no specific advice on how other companies can tweak their boxes to be more like Google's.

Hölzle is not terribly helpful either. During a European press tour in 2006, he boasted that inefficient power supplies were "personally offensive". If he were really so upset about things like the state of bad power supplies, why doesn't he help out in those areas where he can by providing a roadmap for other service providers to follow to achieve ultimate Green Bliss?

We know for a fact that folks at Microsoft and elsewhere would like to see all of the data center giants open up and share more information. But any grand revelation would require Google's cooperation, since it's viewed as the customized, all-star of the bunch with most of the juicy secrets.

As it stands, few people outside Google have any clue if the company has really achieved energy gains through all of its bespoke work and research. Maybe that's why Google stays so secret about the inner-workings of the data centers. It's simply a quirky freak and hardly worth copying. Just best not to let the shareholders know that because the in-house geeks like fiddling with stuff.

Then again, Google might have poured serious genius into these things and have many ways to save millions of dollars and even more watts.

Why not save the climate and the penguins by dishing the goods? Are you raging capitalists after all or the hippies with colored balls?®

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