Monday, November 21, 2005

Google and the Future of the Internet

Robert X. Cringely's new article has some interesting thoughts on the role of Google in the evolution of the internet, now morphing into what's being called "Web 2.0."

Rumors about "the next big thing" from Google has been almost a cottage industry since Google itself was "the next big thing." The latest gossip claims that Google intends to become the world's biggest ISP. Cringely dismisses this, and in the process introduces the grist for another round in the Google rumor mill:

So why buy-up all that fiber, then?

The probable answer lies in one of Google's underground parking garages in Mountain View. There, in a secret area off-limits even to regular GoogleFolk, is a shipping container. But it isn't just any shipping container. This shipping container is a prototype data center. Google hired a pair of very bright industrial designers to figure out how to cram the greatest number of CPUs, the most storage, memory and power support into a 20- or 40-foot box. We're talking about 5000 Opteron processors and 3.5 petabytes of disk storage that can be dropped-off overnight by a tractor-trailer rig. The idea is to plant one of these puppies anywhere Google owns access to fiber, basically turning the entire Internet into a giant processing and storage grid.

While Google could put these containers anywhere, it makes the most sense to place them at Internet peering points, of which there are about 300 worldwide.

Cringely envisions Google creating not a super ISP, but a faster, improved internet itself:

There will be the Internet, and then there will be the Google Internet, superimposed on top. We'll use it without even knowing. The Google Internet will be faster, safer, and cheaper. With the advent of widespread GoogleBase (again a bit-schlepping app that can be used in a thousand ways -- most of them not even envisioned by Google) there's suddenly a new kind of marketplace for data with everything a transaction in the most literal sense as Google takes over the role of trusted third-party info-escrow agent for all world business. That's the goal.

That's some kind of tall order, I say.

Cringely discusses the Google/Microsoft competition , making a prediction of an eventual victor:

Last week, I wrote about Windows Live and Office Live as Microsoft's best attempts at pretending to be Google. And Google will do those kinds of applications, too. But they'll build them atop a network infrastructure that Microsoft can't match.


Microsoft can't compete. Yahoo probably can't compete. Sun and IBM are like remora, along for the ride. And what does it all cost, maybe $1 billion? That's less than Microsoft spends on legal settlements each year.

Cringely compares his idea of Google's plans to the business model of one of America's biggest (and most hated) companies:

Google has the reach and the resources to make this work. There are only so many fiber networks and they'll be BUYING service from those outfits -- many of which are in or near bankruptcy. Say the containers cost $500,000 each in volume and $500,000 per year to run. That's $300 million to essentially co-opt the Internet. And you know whose strategy this is? Wal-Mart's. And unless Google comes up with an ecosystem to allow their survival, that means all the other web services companies will be marginalized. There will be startups and little guys, but no medium-sized companies. ISPs, which we've thought of as a threatened species, won't be touched, but then their profit margins are so low they aren't worth touching. After all, Wal-Mart doesn't try to own the roads its goods are carried over. And the final result is that Web 2.0 IS Google.

Cringely's article is up to his usual high standards. He deals with other aspects of Web 2.0 that I refrain from detailing here due to limits of fair usage. Look at the article for yourself if you are interested. Of course, whether all this comes to pass will be influenced by other factors, such as the health of the economy.


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