The Five Coolest Things We Learned from Google's Data Center Tour

The usually cagey Google has decided to give the world a glimpse inside one its data centers, putting up an explanatory website complete with pretty pictures and a virtual YouTube tour.

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The usually cagey Google has decided to let the world inside one of its data centers, putting up an explanatory website complete with pretty pictures a virtual YouTube tour and a Street View tour. In addition, Google also let Wired's Steven Levy actually walk around the center in Lenoir, North Carolina, giving us more information ever about the hubs that power all the Google related Internetting we do. It's a lot. Here are the five awesomest things we learned.

1. Google isn't as cool as other data centers—in a good way.

Because computer servers get hot (think of those too warm iPads) and data centers are giant rooms filled with lots of computers, most companies have to keep theirs very cold. Google does not, as Levy explained to NPR's Morning Edition. "One technique that Google really pioneered was keeping things hotter than has been traditionally expected in a data center," he said. "In old data centers, you would put on a sweater before you went in there. Google felt that you could run the general facility somewhat warmer than even normal room temperature. When I walked into Lenoir I think it was 77 degrees." The way the company did this was by creating a "hot aisle," which as Levy explains is "a tightly enclosed space where the heat pours from the rear of the servers, could be allowed to hit around 120 degrees." That's where all the heat goes, where it gets absorbed into coils and then pumped out of the building.

2. The disk crusher.

Google, as it explains in its YouTube video walk through, has a system that ensures your data stays safe. It has every bit of information on two separate servers and the most important stuff on digital tapes. When a hard drive breaks the company erases all of its content and smashes it into shards with that disk crusher up there. To see what that puppy can do, here's a pile of crushed hard drives:

3. Free earplugs.

The data center is loud. So loud that Google provides free ear plugs, as Levy explains:

A sign outside the floor dictates that no one can enter without hearing protection, either salmon-colored earplugs that dispensers spit out like trail mix or panda-bear earmuffs like the ones worn by airline ground crews. (The noise is a high-pitched thrum from fans that control airflow.) We grab the plugs. Kava holds his hand up to a security scanner and opens the heavy door. Then we slip into a thunderdome of data …

4. So many cords.

The place is huge This one site alone has 49,923 servers. In total, Google has over 1 million servers, estimates Levy. And data centers in general consume 1.5 percent of the world's electricity output.

5. It will soon be obsolete.

This is either depressing or inspiring depending on how you look at it. But in the very near future all the innovative technology inside this data center will be too slow. "I realize that my epiphanies have limited shelf life. Google’s intention is to render the data center I visited obsolete," writes Levy. "Once our people get used to our 2013 buildings and clusters," Urs Hölzle, one of Google Data Center gurus told Levy, "they’re going to complain about the current ones."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.