Did you know that when you are on a Google website, you’re accessing one of the most powerful server networks in the known universe? Well that’s what Google claims, anyway. But what does that actually look like? You now have a chance to see inside what Google calls – the physical Internet.

Google has created a site devoted to exposing the inner-most workings of its massive data centers, at least visually, as well as exposing some of the people that work in them. In Google’s own words – “Who’s behind the doors of the vast global web we call the Internet? Rocket scientists? Sure. But also zombie marathoners, board game enthusiasts and classic car fanatics.”

Fascinated? If looking at high-resolution pictures of racks and racks of equipment turns you own, this site will have you entertained for hours. The images are brilliant in their composition and colour, even the cooling and power conduits are painted in Google colors. Some shots look more like a set from a sci-fi movie – brilliant, but scary.

This is a massive turnaround for a company that has always been quite secretive about its data center locations and their make-up. Is this a new Google we are seeing? However, despite allowing anyone with a web browser to peer into its data centres, Google continues to closely guard physical access to its buildings. This virtual site is as close as we mere mortals will ever get. There is also no indication of how many computers are in its data centres, saying only that there are hundreds of thousands of machines running the many Google services.

A video tour on the site also stresses that all data is kept on at least two servers and that the ‘most important’ data is stored on digital tape backup systems that resemble robots. It has also turned the company into a major electricity user, although management says it is constantly looking for ways to reduce power consumption to protect the environment and lower its expenses.

And there is planet of data to store! Google tracks all of our internet searches and web surfing habits claiming to gain a better understanding of what people like. It is then able to show ads of products and services to the people most likely to be interested in buying them and, presumably, offer this data to third parties that want to reach a particular demographic group. Advertising, however, accounts for virtually all of Google’s revenue, which totalled nearly $US23 billion in the first half of this year.

In any case, as Google.com is the number one site in the world for hits and, as the world’s largest search engine, it plays an integral part in the digital service ecosystem. If you’ve ever wondered how they do it, this is the site for you.

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 18 October, 2012