Google: The new heavy industry

Harper’s magazine has a great feature in its March issue under the “Annotation” banner: It’s a close-up look at the blueprints for Google’s new server farms in The Dalles, Oregon — the ones that the New York Times wrote about back in 2006. The plans describe three giant buildings of almost 70,000 square feet or so, right beside the Columbia River (where there is a handy hydroelectric dam nearby), although only two of the farms have actually been constructed so far.

Based on industry standards for such farms, Harper’s figures they will use about 500 watts per square foot by 2011, which would mean a total of 103 megawatts, or enough to power a town of about 82,000 homes. The piece also notes that a nearby aluminum smelter that is being torn down used about 85 megawatts, and employed about 500 people. Google estimates it will create between 100 and 200 jobs.

When the New York Times wrote its piece in 2006, Google was estimated to have 25 server farm complexes around the globe, with a total of about 500,000 servers. That was already one of the largest distributed computing clusters in the world. According to Harper’s, current estimates are that it has about twice that many now — which means that its power costs could be as high as $200-million a year.

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