Google's data network is right out of the Terminator.

Google has been designing and manufacturing its own network hardware for use in an extradorinary new data network that’s right out of a science fiction film. These revelations from the famously tight lipped search engine giant were revealed during the recent Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara and reported on extensively in the current issue of Wired.

Market Doesn’t Meet Needs

In an address given at the conference, Google Networking Chief Urs Hölzle confirmed what many in the networking world have long suspected, that Google does design and manufacture their network hardware. Hölzle points out that the company only does this when off the shelf solutions aren’t available and isn’t interested in going head to head with Cisco. Indeed, Hölzle’s motivation in speaking at the conference was to draw attention to an even bigger bit of news involving Google’s massive data network.

Enter OpenFlow

The really big news out of the Open Networking Summit was that Google has switched over its massive data networks to open source networking technology called OpenFlow. The new system allows Google to realize 100 percent capacity of its networks. That’s a pretty big achievement in an industry where 30%-40% capacity is considered good. OpenFlow’s detailed workings are complicated stuff for laymen and a bit scary to anyone who has ever seen any of the Terminator movies. Designed by engineers at Stanford and Cal Berkley, OpenFlow is what’s known as a “software defined network.” That means that the flow of data packets is modeled, and directed internally to increase efficiency.

In an article titled, Going With the Flow: Google’s Secret Switch to the Next Wave of Networking, author Steven Levy compares the flow of data to an attempt to navigate big city traffic. Under the software defined model, traffic navigates city streets under the direction of a central control, as opposed to individual drivers mapping out their own directions. Or, as Hölzle put it, “The network just sort of understands.”

Finally

The details are highly technical, but the results are clear, a vastly improved flow of data traffic. And when you’re regularly moving petrabytes of information the size of an index of  the entire Internet, this is a useful tool. Google is opening up about their switch to the new system in hopes of encouraging other tech companies to do the same. After all, an efficient flow of traffic across the Internet is helpful to a company that serves up a billion searches queries a day. This story also points out the incredible scale of Google and their technical achievements. Few companies, including peak influence Microsoft, have had the kind of resources to do what Google is doing on a number of technical fronts.

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