Do you ever wonder how much power it takes to support the world's online searches?
How many servers it takes to keep us connected via social networking?
What it takes for us to buy and sell things on auction sites?
Want to see the smoke and mirrors behind the magic show we call the World Wide Web? Here are your answers.
Finding Stuff: The Astounding Resources Powering Search Engines
Image via Flickr by Danard Vincente
Part of staying on top (Google commands over 85 percent of search engine market shares) is keeping certain things secret. So Google won't come out and say how many servers it uses. Some have estimated that it takes a million or more servers to do what Google does, but recent estimates based on power consumption put that number closer to 900,000. Close enough. But Google is apparently efficient with natural resources, accounting for less than one percent of global data energy consumption.
Google employs between 25,000 and 30,000 people, but it's unclear how many of these employes are dedicated to working on servers. Aside from technicians who maintain the servers, other workers manage the climate control systems to keep servers at a safe operating temperature and work on development of better procedures and practices.
Yippee! for Yahoo!
Yahoo! isn't nearly as ginormous as Google, so it's no surprise they operate fewer servers. Yahoo! operates a mere 100,000. Relatively speaking, this seems small, but is still an impressive amount of computing power. For instance, the new data center Yahoo! is building in Wenatchee, WA will consume an estimated 40 megawatts, or enough to power 33,000 homes.
Ever wonder what's up with the exclamation point? The company had to add this to comply with copyright laws, since Yahoo was already taken by a barbecue sauce maker. Before Google went public, Yahoo! considered buying them out, but thought the price was too high. Wonder if they still think so? Not all Yahoo!'s investments were bad decisions, though. The email platform they bought back in 1997 remains the world's most popular email service.
Yahoo! is the second largest search engine, commanding less than 8 percent of market shares. divvying up the remaining 7 percent of market shares are Bing with five percent, followed by Baidu, Ask, AOL and Excite, in that order.
Connecting Us: What it Takes to Power Social Networking Sites
Image via Flickr by Gavin Llewellyn
Perhaps starting out with Google was a bad idea, because now you won't be impressed with Facebook's 30,000 servers. But according to VP of Technology Jeff Rothschild, that number grows daily. Facebook added a whopping 20,000 servers within a span of only 18 months. Facebook's servers are now managing one billion users worldwide, or one-seventh of the world's total population. Over half of U.S. citizens have Facebook accounts.
So, Facebook must be doing something right, right? Not necessarily. Even with this astounding growth, customers rated Google+ higher in customer satisfaction than Facebook. In fact, Facebook is ranked worse than any other company among e-businesses in customer satisfaction, scoring a 61 out of 100. But don't feel too sorry for Facebook. They enjoy 350 million active users, 35 million of whom update their statuses every day. This translates into roughly $1 billion in ad revenue each year.
Trash Talking Twitter
Until 2010, Twitter outsourced their data center operations. But its sudden and tremendous burst in popularity (20 million new users in the span of three months) forced them to build their own custom data center in Salt Lake City, UT. Twitter faced serious image problems with angry users and took heat in the press for their failure to keep up with customer demands. Like most computing powerhouses, Twitter is relatively hush-hush about their data centers.
Twitter has committed to taking these steps to improve user experience:
However, it is unclear what date these goals are to be met. During their peak growth period in 2010, 300,000 new accounts were created every day. Twitter is expected to have a total membership of 500 million by March 2013, but only about 170 million of these are regular users. It took tweeters three years, two months and one day to reach one billion tweets, but now users produce a billion tweets every single week.
Buying Stuff: eCommerce Consumes Vast Computing Resources
Image via Flickr by danielbroche
Amazon shares this competitive spirit and doesn't like talking about their internal operations very much. In 2009 it was estimated that Amazon used 40,000 servers, but a recent report concludes it takes 500,000 servers just to run Amazon's cloud computing platform.
As of 2012, Amazon employs 56,000 people and is hiring faster than Google and Microsoft combined. Amazon added 4,900 new employees in the last quarter of 2012, a 10 percent rise over the third quarter of 2012. But even this massive hiring spree pales in comparison to last year's, when Amazon expanded their workforce by a mind-boggling 19 percent in the third quarter of 2011. Apparently, we like buying on Amazon.
In order to serve their 160 million users worldwide, eBay is charged with managing an eye-popping 8.5 pectabytes of data. These figures include the data it takes to run services for Skype and PayPal. This massive server power is housed in humongous data centers, but eBay is keeping their number of servers secretive.
Experts estimate that it would take about 50,000 servers to handle this amount of data. eBay opened in 1995 and made its first online sale on Labor Day, a fitting tribute to its 27,000-member strong workforce.
What This All Means
Image via Flickr by TerryJohnston
The world has about 509,147 data centers. These data centers sit on 285.8 million square acres, the same space of 5,955 football fields. Every month, Google produces 260,000 kg of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of running a home freezer unit for 5,400 years. In the process, it consumes 3,900,000 kWh of power, enough to wash 5,000,000 loads of laundry. The 62 trillion pieces of spam slathering the Internet each year produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as 1.6 million cars.
However, the Internet is getting greener faster than most industries. If the auto manufacturing industry improved their environmental impact at the same rate, we would now be able to buy a car that gets 7,200,000,000 miles on a single tank of gasoline. The Internet is good for people, too, providing an estimated three million jobs, and employing about two percent of the U.S. workforce. Impressive, no?