How Google, Amazon own the cloud: report

Google's and Amazon's massive server farms, the engineers and programmers who service them, the data and software they have created to speed them, "make up much of the real Cloud," and give them a big advantage in speeding Internet development and picking which services succeed, writes Carlos Kirjner, PhD, in a report for clients of Bernstein Research.

How much? "Google has about 2 million servers," Kirjner estimates, using an ingenious calculation: Google doesn't disclose all this directly, but it reported in 2011 that its carbon emissions were 1.7 million tons of CO2, and its energy consumption was 2.7 million megawatt-hours, and that data centers accounted for 86% of its total emissions. Google also gave growth data, server-utilization data, and enough information to imply a per-server energy load of 130 watts, after discounting Google energy conservation improvements, to arrive at 2 million.

2 million servers -- comparable or more than eBay, Facebook, AT&T, Verizon, the biggest banks -- means Google buys about 800,000 a year just to replace them as they wear out, plus "about 300,000-400,000 for growth." With two processer chips per server, "Google deploys about 2.4 million server chips a year," which means it's buying about 15% of Intel's yearly output (though less of revenues and profits, since these are "lower-end" chips), not to mention what it's buying from Intel rival AMD.

Google is also a big buyer of "software-defined networking" from companies like Nicira and Big Switch. Amazon manages a network maybe one-third the size of Google's, which gives them "influence on many areas of the computing and networking value chain." 

And "Google's vast datasets, acquired in large part from its user base," add up to "material advantages" in developing picture and speech recognition and other key advances. Software and apps don't replace hardware; they enable the developers to control it.

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