What Google is really up to

Bob Cringely has been asking himself why Google controls more network fibre than any other organisation. And why it’s building thousands of data centres all over the place.

Google is building a LOT of data centers. The company appears to be as attracted to cheap and reliable electric power as it is to population proximity. In Goose Creek they bought those 520 acres from the local state-owned electric utility, … By buying out all the remaining building sites in an industrial park owned by an electric utility, Google guarantees itself a vast and uninterruptible supply of power, much as it has done in Oregon by building a data center next to a hydroelectric dam or back here again in Columbia by building near a nuclear power station.

Of course this doesn’t answer the question why Google needs so much capacity in the first place, but I have a theory on that. I think Google is building for a future they see but most of the rest of us don’t. I’ll go further and guess that Google is planning to build similar data centers in many states and that the two centers they are apparently preparing to build here in South Carolina are probably intended mainly to SERVE South Carolina. That’s perhaps 100,000 servers for four million potential users or 40 users per server. What computing service could possibly require such resources?

The answer is pretty simple. Google intends to take over most of the functions of existing fixed networks in our lives, notably telephone and cable television.

Bob’s theory is that demand for network bandwidth is about to increase very rapidly, as more of us become accustomed to getting video over the Net.

More and more of us will be downloading movies and television shows over the net and with that our usage patterns will change. Instead of using 1-3 gigabytes per month, as most broadband Internet users have in recent years, we’ll go to 1-3 gigabytes per DAY — a 30X increase that will place a huge backbone burden on ISPs. Those ISPs will be faced with the option of increasing their backbone connections by 30X, which would kill all profits, OR they could accept a peering arrangement with the local Google data center.

Seeing Google as their only alternative to bankruptcy, the ISPs will all sign on, and in doing so will transfer most of their subscriber value to Google, which will act as a huge proxy server for the Internet. We won’t know if we’re accessing the Internet or Google and for all practical purposes it won’t matter. Google will become our phone company, our cable company, our stereo system and our digital video recorder. Soon we won’t be able to live without Google, which will have marginalized the ISPs and assumed most of the market capitalization of all the service providers it has undermined — about $1 trillion in all — which places today’s $500 Google share price about eight times too low.

And we thought Microsoft was dangerous. Discuss.

Aside… BTW, Google has gained control of all that fibre by long-term leasing deals, not corporate acquisitions. Why? Because if it started buying up bandwidth providers it would quickly attract the attention of the anti-trust lawyers in the DoJ.