What did John Foley, an Information Week editor, do on his summer vacation? He burnished his geek cred by heading off to The Dalles, Oregon, to hike around Google’s mammoth new data center. And he has a stack of snapshots to prove it. [UPDATE: Here's another set of photos, from when the center was under construction.]
Foley didn’t actually get inside the compound, but two reporters from The Dalles Chronicle did manage to slip inside the chain-link fence last month. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, they were given a tour of the data center by the plant’s manager, Ken Patchett. They report: “Though we saw only some open areas and the interiors of the security building and the cafeteria building, they were quietly comfortable without posh ostentation. Facilities are what you might expect might be provided by a kindly uncle with a soft spot for good food and employee comfort.” They discovered “a pile of Super Soakers just outside the cafeteria” – part of the company’s sophisticated server-cooling system, perhaps?
In an interview with the reporters, Patchett said that Google is learning the importance of “transparency” and is becoming less secretive about its operations. There are limits to the new openness, however:
Patchett addressed an area of puzzlement for some local people: Google’s unwillingness to divulge the number of employees in The Dalles. “How would that give Google’s competitors an advantage?” we asked him. “It’s an extremely competitive industry we’re in,” he said. “The ability to determine how some things are done within the Internet space may also be determined by the number of people it takes to operate a particular facility. So when we talk about how much capacity we have to process the information, that is what’s valuable to our competitors; how fast and how well do we process our information. Some piece of that may able to be derived by the number of people it takes to actually run and support that.”
Patchett goes on to describe the many community-service projects that Google employees are involved in around The Dalles, from wiring an outdoor stage to lending IT support to the fire department. One activity, though, strikes me as slightly troubling: “Google volunteers also ‘weed the shelves’ at the library every couple of weeks.” Hmmm.