Just how many computers does Google have?

Posted in Technology trends at 12:50 pm by ducky

Just how many computers does Google have?

Around the time of the IPO, Tristan Louis estimated that Google had between 32K and 79K computers, based on Google’s IPO filing. He apparently looked at the $250M on “property and equipment, net” line and used that for equipment costs, and only set aside $50M for employee computers, routers, switches, etc.

Does this make sense? My initial reaction was that it was a bit low: you also have to count desks, bookshelves, photocopiers, conference tables, phones, microwaves, frying pans, and volleyball nets. By comparison, Adobe, which has similar knowledge workers and also owns very little real estate, but has no data centers, has about $100M in property and equipment for 5,734 people, or about $17K per person. I think Google should be a little bit higher, since their equipment is newer and hasn’t depreciated yet. In Google’s filing, they list about 1,900 employees, which at $20K per person, works out to $38M.

Then you need to add in the routers and racks and cables at the data center. According to a 2003 paper put out by Google, each rack has 80 computers, and has one 100-Mbps Ethernet switch and one or two gigabit uplinks. Each data center has at least one gigabit switch that connects all the racks together. In addition, each data center has at least one hardware load balancer, and possibly more. (The papers about the Google architecture are ambiguous.) But even adding all that up, it still seems like a small number of thousands of dollars per data center.

Thus, $200M for data center computers is probably a reasonable figure. What about the per-computer costs? Those might be a bit low. Tristan Lewis uses the figure given in the 2003 paper of $278K (2002 prices) for a rack, but that’s if you buy from a vendor. Google builds its own, and just might get a volume discount on components, so they should be able to save at least 10-30%.Each rack would then cost $194K to $250K. At $200M for computers, this works out to 800 to 1030 racks of 80 computers each, or 64,000 to 82,000 computers. That’s a lot.

How many do they have now? According to Google’s most recent filing, they have $961M in property and equipment and 5,680 full time employees, so they bought about $710M of new equipment for 3780 new employees. $20K of equipment per employee means around $75M of employee equipment. Heck, let’s round up and say that $110M was on non-data center equipment. That leaves $600M for new racks.

For the same amount of money per computer that they spent in 2003, Google could get faster and more powerful computers, or they could get more computers. While their papers indicate that CPU speed isn’t the most important thing to them, they do also mention that they would expect to see a big speedup from dual-core processors. Bigger disks also seem like they could also be a win, so maybe Google spent something similar to what they did last time. Let’s guess about $200K per rack. That means that since the IPO, they would have bought an additional 3000 racks, or about 240,000 *more* computers.

I thus count that they have 300,000 computers. At least.


UPDATE: Someone asserted that the equipment figure was wrong — that Google had bought a lot of dark fibre, and that would chew up a lot of millions of dollars. It appears that most of the chatter about Google buying dark fibre was due to Google posting an ad looking for someone to negotiate purchasing dark fibre leases. I sort of don’t think that you buy fibre, due to the incredible messy right-of-way issues. I think you lease fibre, and leases show up in a different line item on the financial statement.

UPDATE2: I didn’t figure in depreciation.  That would bump the number of computers up significantly.

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