Drop by the Google.com website, click on "About Google," and you'll learn (in case you didn't know) that, "'Googol' is the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros. [In other words, it's a very large number.] Google is a company with a very large number of users, too, and a laser-like focus on finding the right answer for each and every one of them more than 200 million times a day."
A large number indeed. As is 200 million times a day. The more you learn about the company, the more apt its name is. For there are many, many large numbers that describe the company. A recent article in Technology Review by Simson Garfinkel examined how Google does what it does. It quoted Martin Farach-Colton, a professor of computer science at Rutgers University, who spent two years working at Google and who says that the company routinely understates its power: "'Google always reports much, much lower numbers than are true.' Whenever somebody from Google puts together a new presentation, he explained, the PR department vets the talk and hacks down the numbers.. 'We have 10,000-plus servers. That's plus a lot.'"
The explanation for the secrecy is that it's best to keep competitors and would-be competitors in the dark as to just what's involved in Google's work. The article notes that, "The facts may be seeping out. Last Thanksgiving, The New York Times reported that Google had crossed the 100,000-server mark. If true, that means Google is operating perhaps the largest grid of computers on the planet."
Even more impressive is how this came to be. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page began by scrounging around for nearly obsolete, hand-me-down computers at and around Stanford -- ones that were being replaced. These got networked together to provide the needed computing power. Google today operates in a similar fashion, stringing together large numbers of inexpensive computers.
The article discussed one other company that gets a lot of mileage out of a large number of computers -- despite a relatively modest staff size. That would be Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM ) : "Akamai's network operates on the same complexity scale as Google's. Although Akamai has only 14,000 machines, those servers are located in 2,500 different locations scattered around the globe. The servers are used by companies like CNN and Microsoft to deliver Web pages. Just as Google's servers are used by practically everyone on the Internet today, so are Akamai's." Akamai's culture is described as open, compared to Google's closed nature.
LongtimeFoolcontributorSelena Maranjiandoes not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.