No More Hustleporn: Google's First Datacenter

Tweet by Urs Hölzle

A trip down memory lane...exactly 23 years ago Google signed its first datacenter contract.  Let's walk through the lease in a thread. First, the copy you see here was sent by a "fax machine" which was something people used back then.


The data center provider was Exodus, a now-defunct company that was a leading provider at the time and had a market cap of tens of billions of dollars at the height of the dotcom bubble.  The facility was located at 2251 Lawson Lane in Santa Clara (since torn down).

The first item on the order is a VDC (Virtual Data Center) measuring 7x4 feet (2.1x1.2m). You could barely lay down a mattress in this space. Imagine a "cage" with a mesh wire fence and a door, and inside there was a set of shelves (kinda like bookshelves) with PCs on it.


A1 through a24 were the main machines to build and serve the index and c1 through c4 were the crawl machines. (There were no b machines.) I say "machine" not "server" because they were whitebox office PC enclosures with external disks attached.

Note the handwritten addition at the bottom, requesting 3 20A power circuits.  That's 3*16A usable @ 110V, or about 5kW, so each machine drew less than 180W.

Back then, datac enters were priced by the sqft even though the actual cost of providing data center space is almost exclusively proportional to power, so by asking for extra power Larry got a better deal.

Still, at $4000/month this was the world's most expensive mattress-sized space. Until you look at the cost of bandwidth: $1200/month for a single Mbps. We had two lines, one for web crawling and one for serving.

It took until the Spring of 1999 for to break through the 2Mbps usage commit!I first set foot in the Google data center on Feb 1st, 1999. Well, not really, you couldn’t really “set foot” in that small a space.  Larry had led me there for a tour (I wasn’t an employee yet) and it was my first time in any data center.


A short while afterwards we got an additional cage (maybe 3x larger) for 84 servers across 4 racks (assembled by a local shop called King Star Computer, IIRC). Finally, in June we got a still very crammed cage for 2400 of the infamous "cork board" servers, one of which you can see at the Computer History Museum, Natural History Museum, and a few more.


It had some adventurous features but if you have just 2-3 weeks to design a very high density rack on the cheap, and haven't ever done it before, that's what you get :-) But it all started with 28 sqft of space and a few PCs.