Google’s Data Center Revealed

Post Highlights

  • Google provides access to Lenoir, North Carolina Data Center
  • Cloud computing has been a leading trend in 2012 for government
  • Overview of Testimony by Joel C. Willemsseen, Managing Direction, Information Technology, GAO
Cloud computing has been one the leading trends in government. Throughout the year, there have been countless examples of increased cloud adoption, best practices, GAO reports, and news stories covering the risks and benefits of implementing cloud computing.

Even with all this news, we rarely get an inside look to where all our data is stored, yet we trust that it is safely resting in a data center. Last month, Google opened up the doors to one of their massive data centers in Lenoir, North Carolina. Steven Levy of Wired writes about Google’s unbelievable physical network, which is sometimes overlooked when we think about Google:

This is what makes Google Google: its physical network, its thousands of fiber miles, and those many thousands of servers that, in aggregate, add up to the mother of all clouds. This multibillion-dollar infrastructure allows the company to index 20 billion web pages a day. To handle more than 3 billion daily search queries. To conduct millions of ad auctions in real time. To offer free email storage to 425 million Gmail users. To zip millions of YouTube videos to users every day. To deliver search results before the user has finished typing the query.

A Google server room in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Photo: Google/Connie Zhou

Those are some mind-blowing statistics, and for many government agencies at the state, local and federal level, they rely on Google to house their collaboration software, connect via email, and through Google’s business apps. Steven Levy’s access to the data center was rare. Google states, “Very few people have stepped inside Google’s data centers, and for good reason: our first priority is the privacy and security of your data, and we go to great lengths to protect it, keeping our sites under close guard.”

The blog post continues, “Today, for the first time, you can see inside our data centers and pay them a virtual visit. On Where the Internet lives, our new site featuring beautiful photographs by Connie Zhou, you’ll get a never-before-seen look at the technology, the people and the places that keep Google running.”

The links and photos above have been an interesting look into data centers and cloud computing. Data centers and cloud computing have been one of many important trends shaping government in 2012. Google’s cloud has been adopted by dozens of agencies at the state, local and federal level this year. In hopes of finding improved efficiency, cost savings and collaboration, the cloud has become an important trend for government agencies.

Throughout the year, there have been several hearings and committees on cloud computing. One in particular of interest was a recent House Committee of Veterans Affairs Testimony by Joel C. Willemssen, Managing Director, Information Technology, US Government Accountability Office. Joel mentioned some of the challenges and benefits for cloud computing in the public sector.

Joel provides an insightful overview of cloud computing, and the pressing need for cloud, stating, “Cloud computing is an emerging form of computing that relies on Internet-based services and resources to provide computing services to customers, while freeing them from the burden and costs of maintaining the underlying infrastructure. Examples of cloud computing include Web-based e-mail applications and common business applications that are accessed online through a browser, instead of through a local computer.”

Although cloud computing has dozens of benefits, the cloud does come with significant challenges and roadblocks for government agencies. Joel states, “As we reported, cloud computing can both increase and decrease the security of information systems in federal agencies.” With increased collaboration, more users connected to networks, increased mobile devices, security risks and vulnerabilities have become more pervasive for government agencies.

Joel states, “Risks include dependence on the security practices and assurances of the provider, dependence on the provider, and concerns related to sharing computing resources. However, these risks may vary based on the cloud deployment model. Private clouds may have a lower threat exposure than public clouds, but evaluating this risk requires an examination of the specific security controls in place for the cloud’s implementation.”

Although the risks are there – there are benefits that have clearly pushed agencies toward cloud adoption. GAO recently produced a report (see my brief overview here) that makes recommendations to OMB, GSA and NIST to provide guidance to agencies on how to fully leverage and implement cloud adoption. More guidance has been made available this year for government agencies, with the development of FedRAMP, cloud adoption should continue to increase across the federal government, and be implemented more efficiently with guidance on how to implement cloud technology.

Google is a public and profitable company focused on search services. It’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Check out their Google for Gov group on GovLoop as well as the Technology Sub-Community of which they are a council member.

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