Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
DEAL: For $25 - Add A Second Phone Number To Your Smartphone for life! Use promo code SLASHDOT25. Also, Slashdot's Facebook page has a chat bot now. Message it for stories and more. Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 Internet speed test! ×

The IT Strategy That Makes Google Work 112

savio13 writes "InfoWeek published an article on Google's IT Strategy, which can be summarized as: 'Use customized open source where possible, custom build where necessary , and buy if it's not related to something that will give Google a competitive advantage.' The author interviewed several senior IT folks at Google and the article is surprisingly thorough considering how closely Google guards information about their actual IT environment." From the article: "Google managers tend to be reticent on the subject of IT strategy, they're loath to talk about specific vendors or products, and they clam up when asked about their servers and data centers. But a day spent with some of the company's IT leaders reveals there's more to Google's IT operations than a search engine running on a massive server farm. Behind the seeming simplicity is a mash-up of internally developed software, made-to-order hardware, artificial intelligence, obsession with performance, and an unorthodox approach to people management."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The IT Strategy That Makes Google Work

Comments Filter:
  • Special sauce... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:26PM (#16019406) Homepage Journal
    One of the things that has consistently impressed me about Google is their willingness to look at old problems in new and innovative ways. Of course this is one of the hallmarks of a successful company, but it is not always successfully implemented. One example is their Google Earth [google.com] application that made huge waves in certain agencies like NIMA [nima.mil]. The interface made more than one NIMA/NRO/CIA analyst/project manager smack their forehead in stunned recognition of a superior way of layering and interacting with diverse types of data.

    The other thing that really impresses me about the company is the flat egalitarian structure that at the same time allows for tremendous independent freedom while also making much of the management fairly transparent which does tremendous things for morale. I also respect the encouragement of discourse including criticism. Not many companies can tolerate that sort of structure because they are built upon protectionism of management structures and establishment of castes of a sort. It shows that Google is one of the few companies like Apple that are succeeding because of their inherent talent. Google knows this and I would encourage them to resist the pressure to devolve into management structures that are having negative effects on tech companies as diverse as SGI, HP, Dell and Microsoft.

    As an aside, Google has shows a tremendously insightful ability to pick and choose product development talent at all levels over the years. I've been impressed by many of their hires. Whoever is heading up their HR dept. is talking actively with the Google special sauce R&D folks and they know their stuff.....

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:46PM (#16019559)
      Sorry to spoil your paen to Google, but Google did not actually develop Google Earth. That was done by Keyhole, Inc. (in the guise of their Earth Viewer application), who Google acquired.

      However, credit can be given to Google in this case for recognizing when someone else is looking at old problems in new and innovative ways, and adapting their approach.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Parent is correct.
        I used keyhole back in january 2002.
        I even saw it on the news shortly thereafter. (remember those cool fly-by animations durring gulf war II?)
      • by rvw ( 755107 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @07:05PM (#16020138)
        >> However, credit can be given to Google in this case for recognizing
        >> when someone else is looking at old problems in new and innovative ways,
        >> and adapting their approach.

        Another company was very succesful at acquiring companies that made new and innovative applications.... Microsoft!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Let me say that I'm a tech bad-ass with a ton of experience and gold stars, and when I applied to Google, their recruiters grilled the heck out of me, everyone I talked to was very skilled and found my weaknesses quicky, and I didn't get a job offer... despite the fact that many other companies continue to actively recruite me.

      I was humbled
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Perhaps your difficulty is in someway related to your ego, o great "tech bad-ass".
    • Re:Special sauce... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bamafan77 ( 565893 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @07:22PM (#16020254)
      "It shows that Google is one of the few companies like Apple that are succeeding because of their inherent talent. Google knows this and I would encourage them to resist the pressure to devolve into management structures that are having negative effects on tech companies as diverse as SGI, HP, Dell and Microsoft."
      I hate to be the black cloud here, but I bet SGI, HP, Dell, and MS were all like Google is now at one point. All were smart companies with flat structures where smart people were making measurable contributions that directly affect the stock price.

      But Wall Street is setup so that you have to keep growing or die. You can have a healthy business in any other sense, but if you're not growing then you may as well be dead as far as The Street is concerned. Exhibit A - Microsoft. They have something like 70% profit margins, earn billions of dollars in pure profit every single quarter...yet they are considered a lackluster company and their reflects this perception.

      So in order to satisfy Wall Street's appetite for growth companies keep...growing. Often way too fast. Many times this results in bad products in good potential markets, good products in bad markets, and bad products in bad markets. It takes staff to ramp up to develop all these misses. The money made before supports all these misses. You get a few too many of these misses and not only are you not growing anymore, but your bread and butter that once made you a Wall Street darling is now undercut by cheaper competition.

      Exhibits B & C - SGI and Dell.

      Anyway, right now Google is obviously in a growth phase. But there is nothing THAT new or innovative about what they're doing. (And many of the products people give them credit for was actually purchased by Google as many in this thread have pointed out for Google Earth.) They're just the most recent cool new company (that everyone's heard of) on the tech block.

      I'd love to work with/for Google and I think they're a cool company, but a bit of perspective can be useful too. :)

      • They make all this money and blow it on things like the xbox and on stupid (well it was great, but I mean stupid financially) training videos feature stars from the British 'The Office'. The street would rather them give bigger dividends than literally burn their money.
      • by the_womble ( 580291 ) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:25AM (#16022043) Homepage Journal
        They have something like 70% profit margins, earn billions of dollars in pure profit every single quarter...yet they are considered a lackluster company and their reflects this perception.

        Look at MS as an investor and you will see why.

        The founder and chairman is stepping back from the full time for the first time since the company was founded. There seems to be a general lack of confidence in the CEO.

        The next version of the flagship produce is several years late and has had several key features dropped from it.

        The company is sitting on a large cash pile. Why? What are they planning to do with it? When companies keep cash piles they are usually doing one of preparing for bad times, planning a huge amount of (probably risky) expansion or big (again risky) acquisitions?

        Look at the valuation ratios: they are actually fairly high for a company that already dominates its industry(which limits room for growth).

        You seem to object to the idea that Wall Street values growth companies more. Would you pay are much for the shares of a high growth company as a similar low growth company?

        Of course you may be right that Google's growth is being over-valued, but it does not need to keep up its growth of all that long (a few years will do) to justify the current rating.

        • The company is sitting on a large cash pile. Why? What are they planning to do with it? When companies keep cash piles they are usually doing one of preparing for bad times, planning a huge amount of (probably risky) expansion or big (again risky) acquisitions?

          From MS's history - BillyG has never let the company have negative cash - no debt. MS has always had enough money to employ itself for at least a period of 2 years without a single sale. Now-a-days that does require the billions in cash that they ha

      • Exhibit A - Microsoft. They have something like 70% profit margins, earn billions of dollars in pure profit every single quarter...yet they are considered a lackluster company and their reflects this perception.

        That is at least partly Microsoft's own fault.

        Historically Microsoft refused to issue Dividends, their arguement was alway that investors made money by the share price going up and so were hugely focused on that one goal which works while a company is still growing but it can't be sustained indef

        • First, the disclaimer: I'm not a broker, advisor, or fund manager. I don't currently hold any MS stock directly. MSFT is held by one of the funds in which I invest. This post is just my quick-thought opinion. The contents don't constitute advice and shouldn't be read as a fully-considered position.

          Maybe once the growth slows sufficiently, the board will decide to pay dividends. Paying dividends during the growth phase can hurt the company's cash flow. Going from phenomenal growth without dividends to slow g
      • VERY good point here.

        I'd add that Google is doing really well economically. When the growth starts to slow, or when the money dries up-- even temporarily-- that's when we'll really know how resilient and positive the Google atmosphere is.

        It's easy to be flat and transparent when you're hiring. When you're laying off, things get much harder for the manager. Obviously, we hope no company ever has to cut back, but history teaches us that eventually they all do.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by valen ( 2689 )

      Google and Apple have wildly different management styles.

      Google is run for the engineers. The engineering managers are interviewed by engineers. If they don't know as much about engineering as the guys they manage, they don't get hired. So, the end result is engineers running at 100% efficiency, giving everything they have to every crazy project they come up with. The public then choose which products they like - its not like you have to splash out 1000 bucks to try a new google product out.
      • by Nutria ( 679911 )
        I'd a chat with some Google engineers that used to work for Microsoft. One guy was proud of the fact that not one line of code or one bugfix he'd put in over seven years ever made it into a product that shipped.

        Why is that something to be proud of?

        Am I missing something?
        • Maybe if you work at Microsoft, not having your code in a shipping product is a reason to be proud.
          • by Nutria ( 679911 )
            Maybe if you work at Microsoft, not having your code in a shipping product is a reason to be proud.

            Funny, but sad.

  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:28PM (#16019426) Homepage
    For those don't know the URL, you can find google here. [google.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:31PM (#16019442)
    "The IT Strategy That Makes Google Work Today"

    Everyone's talking about how bloated and old Microsoft is... give Google 10 or 15 years - rest assured we'll be seeing comments like "Where Did Google Go Wrong?" or "Google Delisted" or something like that.
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      I would go with something like "Netcraft confirms it: Google is dead".

      On a more serious note, I agree with you. I'm sure Microsoft had a very fresh and innovative approach to HR back in the day, and surely there were a few dozen articles discussing just that. Round and round we go...

    • by Flammon ( 4726 )
      Google's management (from what I'm reading) gives individuals more freedom on how they work. It is from this freedom that creativity emerges and it is this creativity that keeps Google on the leading edge.
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:31PM (#16019446) Homepage
    ... and buy if it's not related to something that will give Google a competitive advantage.

    Are the network cables bought pre-made at fixed lengths or does an army of interns who spend the summer making cables instead of coding?
  • Google uses so much open source they claim, why aren't they contributing more? Maybe Stallman is onto something with the GPL 3.
  • case in point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu.gmail@com> on Thursday August 31, 2006 @05:32PM (#16019451) Journal

    Want to read about some cool Google "cooked up" technology?, read this white paper [google.com] on the Google File System (one of the coolest, simplest, most elegant file systems I've seen).

    • Anyone check this whitepaper out and notice the name of the file structure in the GFS graphic (Figure 1) Anyway, check it out: /foo/bar I like that :) Grant
  • >> is a mash-up of internally developed

    *!*SMACK*!*

    Stop with the "mash-up" already!
  • a mash-up of internally developed software, made-to-order hardware, artificial intelligence, obsession with performance, and an unorthodox approach to people management

    At first, I though the word 'mashup' was misused, but this wikipedia entry for Mashup [wikipedia.org] tells me I'm somewhat wrong. Somewhat because there's no application involved. But it doesn't matter, misusing a word can be seen as writing with style ;-) In my industry, mashups mainly (only?) applies to maps...
  • fried, not mashed.
  • Google's strategy: Phase 1: Make a search engine Phase 2: ????? Phase 3: Profit! I'm sorry, but it had to be said, and just once I wanted to be the one to say it. I'll go hide in the corner now.
  • by IflyRC ( 956454 )
    At least when they get their party jet [wsj.com] completed.
  • Subject line says it all, really. I've always worked with companies and projects that start out playing catch-up and try too many shortcuts using packaged software, so I don't tend to see things where the philosophy dictates the action (instead of the reverse).
  • by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:06PM (#16019727)
    Anyone who reads all 5 pages of that article is going to learn more than just one new valuable thing.
  • by SloWave ( 52801 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:13PM (#16019793) Journal
    A little secret known by some companies is that if they don't use commodity SW they can gain a big advantage over their competitors that do. The trick is in tailoring Free Open Source SW to match their business model instead of the other way around like you do with MS and other commodity SW. This approach does require someone knowledgeable enough to make it work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by NineNine ( 235196 )
      1. If you'll notice from the article, about all they use that's open source is Linux and some compilers.

      2. I run mostly MS software at my business, but the MS software that I run is highly customized. MS offers tons and tons of API's. Many more than most proprietary software companies than I've seen, in fact. If you want to find out more, visit: http://msdn.microsoft.com/ [microsoft.com]

      3. And, if you'll notice... companies like Google that use custom software to gain a competitive advantage certainly don't open sour
      • by Martz ( 861209 )
        1) Thats because everything else is either written in house, or bought off the shelf. They are looking for value from software, whatever its licence. Read other posts about the order in which they will pick this software - and FOSS comes first where possible. It's all about value.

        2) The API only lets you change the software within the boundaries set by Microsoft. Also, the API doesn't allow you to roll out that MS application to hundreds of thousands of nodes without an increase in licencing. The more your
  • NIH is a killer. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jerk City Troll ( 661616 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:18PM (#16019827) Homepage

    It consistently bugs me that so many companies think they can save money by taking the “not invented here” philosophy on as much as possible. I am convinced, especially after learning about the inner workings of Google, that this just does not work. So much time and effort is wasted getting third party products working for very specific tasks and when all is said and done, you can often put together a solution that meets your needs exactly in nearly the same amount of time. And then in the long run, even if you are successful at first, you will fight a larger maintenance and cost nightmare as your vendors shift and change directions and you find yourself wishing you had more specificity in the solution.

    • Re:NIH is a killer. (Score:5, Informative)

      by jemecki ( 661581 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @07:23PM (#16020261)
      I agree with your point. However, just to nitpick, your concept of NIH is reversed. NIH means to *refuse* to use concepts/tools that were "not invented here." In other words, companies that take the NIH approach would prefer in-house solutions to 3rd-party ones, not the other way around. So your argument is actually in support of NIH, not against it. wiki link [wikipedia.org]
    • Hmm, sounds like you mean the opposite of Not-Invented-Here: it typically means that an organization doesn't respect a solution unless it was invented there.

      But I think I agree with your thoughts: I've seen far better productivity come from small teams creating simple solutions than from much larger teams attempting to implement huge commercial platforms.
    • As other have pointed out, you have the opposite meaning of NIH.

      A bigger point that needs to be made though is why strategies like google's are slightly misguided. Third party software can be successfully integrated into an internal system. The challenge is performing the proper due dillegence on the software and making sure it meets your needs in terms of functionality, sustainability, support, and all the other factors that tend to be ignored during the purchasing phase. When the right commercial softw
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:20PM (#16019842) Homepage Journal
    Ok this basic approach has been done before. The American Airlines SABRE system which for years was THE strategic advantage of American Airlines. SABRE was a massive project that involved the custom development of an Operating System: TPF which IBM built specifically for extremely high speed transaction processing - much faster than CICS over MVS. SABRE also lead the development of very high performance non relational DB's. IMS and IDMS are direct offshoots from this work, in fact IDMS was probably the fastest general purpose DB ever until Teradata came along. On the hardware side, they squeezed performance out of the IBM TCM mainframe line that no one thought possible. IBM had trouble benchmarking it is was so fast and it was years before they even published their results.

    But again, the basic approach was to start from scratch and build the biggest fastest business application system they could design. The problem with SABRE is that change control and management were nightmarish in their complexity.

    What I'd be interested in learning is how Google handles patch management, security APARs, change control, health checking and all those mundane process driven chores that catch us all up.

    And yes I am old geezer. I did extensive work in high performance CICS systems such as running CICS as a continuous communications task.
    • Wow, you ARE a geezer. I've used VM/CMS, VM/EMS, but haven't had the pleasure of learning CICS.

      I learned about SABRE in University, I could have sworn they told it ran *all* the airlines' reservation systems.

      That said, your comment about patch management, change control, and so forth are on the money. There HAS to be a better to do it that what I'm doing now (failover, patch, failover, patch, failover patch...)
  • buy if it's not related to something that will give Google a competitive advantage
    That's similar to MS' strategy, isn't it? I guess that's the dilemma of the "liberal" market.
  • by ndykman ( 659315 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:26PM (#16019901)
    The article noted that Google uses a custom tuned Linux kernel. Does anybody know what changes (if any) Google has contributed back? I'd suspect that said tuning includes some kernel changes.
    • by StandardDeviant ( 122674 ) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @07:58PM (#16020476) Homepage Journal
      On their patches page [google.com], under "Google Search Appliance", there's a note that the linked patches include the kernel information for those machines (e.g. linux-2.4.26-google.tar.gz [google.com] from their latest GSA distribution. Whether or not the GSA is running the same code as their own search cluster is anyone's guess [aside, of course, from those of you reading this that do work there, heh]. I'd say that they're probably pretty close if they aren't identical because otherwise tracking multiple trees would be kind of a pain in the ass (on the other hand, they do have many developers and an incentive to make their machines scream...). It should be noted that if their search pool servers ARE running changes that aren't being made public, it is perfectly within their rights to do so, as the GPL stipulates (in short) that your customers should have access to your source code (and if you are your only customer, then it's perfectly legit to keep changes in-house; if you start shipping those binaries elsewhere however, then it's time to cough up the src).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    From TFA:

    "Everything that's done privately is done publicly here," he says. (As if to make the point, Merrill took off his T-shirt during our photo shoot, showing off his tattoos.)

    Guess there had to be a downside to working at Google as well..
  • Finally, something worth reading here on Slashdot. It's been awhile. Thanks. 'Twas an interesting article.
  • custom build where necessary , and buy if it's not related to something that will give Google a competitive advantage

    Hi. Welcome to everyone's IT strategy. So Google uses OSS too. What's the news?

  • I think this article is a PR hit. [paulgraham.com] Anyway, Google is far from the only company to develop a lot of their code in-house. My current employer is one, and it greatly increases the quality of life. I used to strongly advocate this approach, but now I understand that it's right for some companies and not others.

    It all depends whether the company is a tech producer or consumer. Tech consumers buy or outsource everything but their core competency. This eliminates the risk of in-house development. Tech produce
  • From TFA: "The challenge for Google is to remain different--which is part of its competitive advantage--while staying true to its mission to organize the world's information and make it universally, rather than selectively, accessible and useful.

    Yeah, universally available to all those living outside of China.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      But it's not Google's fault... Blame their government!
  • Much more Google techie info is on Rob Pike Usenix 04 talk: "Cheap Hardware + Fault Tolerance = Web Site" http://www.usenix.org/events/usenix04/tech/thurs.h tml [usenix.org]

    Did you know for example, that he says fancy cooling is only necessary, if your components are in a box. Wrap them to racks with velcro, drop the boxes, and you need no active cooling.
  • Having worked at a company with very similar structures and values to Google (thought not in the high tech industry) I can say it can be an amazing ride pulling in amazing people to go wonderful work in a great environment. Treating people like people and not 'head count'. That can do really amazing things for a company and can create amazing value for the stakeholders.

    The problem is, of course, that there is a very strong pull to devolve to the mean. To become average, normal, or safe. It takes a HUGE a
  • I, personally, cannot understand Google's rise to prominence. Sure they have a neat technology, but are they the "best"? Hardly. Here are my top reasons why Yahoo is better than Google: 1. Yahoo's search technology is superior: When comparing searches, I consistently find what I want quicker on Yahoo than on Google. 2. Yahoo actually has its own content: Unlike Google who just links you to other sites and their tools, Yahoo has its own content in areas like Business, Finance, News, and more. Outside of t
    • Most of those are pretty subjective, so I'll stick to two:

      >4. Yahoo's Mail service actually works: Unlike Gmail,
      >Google's mail service, Yahoo Mail actually works. Gmail has been in BETA for years.

      What about GMail doesn't work? I use it constantly and successfully.

      >8. Stock Price: Google is trading at a 600% EPS premium over Yahoo.
      >This is what happens when emotions trump logic in the stock market.

      So short it :)
    • I won't comment on your other points - I never use Yahoo, so I can't evaluate their services versus Google's. However, regarding point 5...

      Is it worse to be a hypocrite than to do evil? Yahoo has done all the evil that you accuse Google of. Their lack of a claim to "not do evil" is no defense whatsoever in my book.

      I think everyone should hold themselves to the highest standard. Sometimes you will fail to meet that standard. You should recognize your failures and try to do better. To hold yourself to n
  • The company is constructing a 30-acre data center along the Columbia River in The Dalles, Ore., where it can get low-priced hydroelectric power for computing and cooling.
    Now Google will not only control our email, calendars, and search data but also our water supply. When will it end?

    Now that would be one hell of a water cooling setup.

  • I noticed in the article that it mentioned that Google ran a heavily customized version of the Linux Kernel. I'm no expert on the GPL, but doesn't that mean that Google is required to release the source code for those modifications? Has it been posted anywhere?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by kchrist ( 938224 )
      The GPL only requires releasing your source if you're distributing binaries. If they're using their custom Linux kernel entirely in-house, there are under no obligation to release it.

      The kernel source used in the Google Search Applicance they sell is available, but of course no one outside of Google knows if that's the same kernel running their in-house production systems.

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur

Working...