Thursday, September 22, 2005

Googleplex: The Next Grid Thing?

All sorts of posts around the blogosphere have been talking about Stephen E. Arnold's new ebook, The Google Legacy.

His website summarizes it thusly:

  • Google's computing platform -- named the Googleplex by Arnold after the name given by the company to its Mountain View headquarters complex -- is a better (faster, cheaper and simpler to operate) computer processor and operating system than systems now available from competitors. Its price advantage is five or six to one over other hardware. Massively parallelized and distributed, its processing capability can be expanded indefinitely. As a virtual system or network utility, the user simply faces no need for backup or setup or restore.
  • Google has re-coded Linux to meet its needs. This recoding enables Google to deploy numerous current and future applications -- 50 or more -- without degrading performance.
  • Google products have the potential to be assembled into a version of MS Office -- including word processing -- and many other applications.

I'm only one chapter in, but I see flaws in his arguments (along with some great points and fascinating insight).

Google is a very interesting company that has always done things very differently than others, and they have consistently created fantastic technology.

However, this doesn't make them "about to unseat Microsoft from its throne."

Google has deployed its own version of Linux. That's great. But what they have is a purpose-built operating system. It may be built to accept many different applications (they're running dozens of public applications and who knows how many secret ones), but, in all likelihood, it was not built to run on every desktop, server and cluster node in an enterprise. It would surprise me greatly to find out that Google has any interest in all at making an all-purpose operating system. One of the hardest things about making any public OS is the hundreds of thousands of drivers that have to be written to handle peripherals; does Google want to get in the business of making sure every printer on earth works with their OS?

While Google has been making an increasing number of applications available to the public (and allowing webservices to get at some of the data), they have not made a general application framework available to the public. And here is where I think Arnold goes too far in his appraisal of Google's reach. For an enterprise distributed computing system, enterprises want an OS that is deployed within their enterprise. They want an OS that they develop on all the time. And they want their IP (their software and their data) to stay within their walls.

Google is creating an architecture and OS that are stretching the capabilities of distributed computing and, without a doubt, proving that the power of commodity machines is immense and scalable. But I wouldn't go looking for enterprises to replace their existing platform operating systems with Googleplex anytime soon.