Google: The Fifth-Largest Server Vendor?

Sometimes you just need to build something yourself.

The fifth-largest server manufacturer is… Google?

Anecdotally, yes.

Diane Bryant, corporate vice president and general manager of the Datacenter and Connected Systems Group, told Wired that, a few years ago, familiar names like Dell and Hewlett-Packard bought the majority of the company’s Xeon processors, built them into servers, and sold them to customers. That was entirely consistent with the analyst models of the time, which typically poll each manufacturer for the number of systems sold and use that to calculate the total market.

Now take a look at today’s world, where vast companies with secretive data centers—such as Google and Facebook—have stopped buying servers from those big names. Instead, they’re designing their own, turning directly to Intel to purchase their chips.

Today, according to Bryant, eight server makers account for 75 percent of Intel’s server chip revenues—and at least one of those eight doesn’t even sell servers. “Google is something like number five on that list,” Bryant told the magazine Monday evening during a dinner with reporters in downtown San Francisco.

In August, IDC reported that Hewlett-Packard and IBM achieved a statistical tie for the top spot in the server market, with 29.6 percent and 29.2 percent of the market by revenue, respectively. The real success story was Dell, the only vendor in the top five to report year-over-year revenue growth; while it maintained its third-place ranking from a year ago, Dell managed to grow its share to 16.0 percent. Oracle and Fujitsu are the fourth- and fifth-largest server makers, although both firms reported abysmal year-over-year revenue declines of 20.1 percent and 42.1 percent, respectively.

Note the absence of Google in that IDC rundown.

That Google makes its own data centers isn’t surprising; in 2009, the company revealed that, not only had the company already been designing its own servers for several years, but since 2005 it had been using modularized shipping containers to house up to 1,160 servers apiece. The company also revealed it was using other innovations, including a battery backup (to eliminate the need for less-efficient UPS devices) and DC power, with any necessary conversions taking place on the motherboard.

At the time (and one can assume they’ve since improved) a Google graph showed that the company was recording PUE values as low as about 1.13, and up to about 1.23, at least with the data centers Google highlighted. The average was about 1.19 for March 2009.

Wired also reported that Facebook, which participates in the Open Computer Project (sharing its data center designs with other manufacturers) also buys chips directly from Intel. However, it employs a so-called “just in time” model, where it only buys what it needs, instead of stockpiling the chips in an original design manufacturer’s (ODM) warehouse for later use. ODMs in Taiwan and China typically build most of the world’s PCs and notebooks, stamping a “Dell” or “HP” logo on them when they’re finally completed. For the past few years, those ODMs have begun pushing upward into the higher-margin server market.

The lesson? In addition to the challenges of reporting accurate data, the report shows that the best vendor for specialized servers might be your own organization. That’s slightly disingenuous, of course, given that even the largest firms typically don’t want to devote the time and resources to reinventing the wheel. But for massive big data firms with boatloads of cash and technical expertise such as Google and Facebook, this strategy may be the way to go.

 

Image: improvize/Shutterstock.com

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