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Interview: EMI's Douglas Merrill on Google's future

ex-Google CIO Merrill talks before his move to EMI

We talk to Douglas Merrill, ex CIO of Google and now president of EMI's digital business division talks about how the internet search pioneer's IT organisation is configured, how CIOs need to evolve and the most exasperating question that people ask him at cocktail parties.

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Google is building multiple data centres in seemingly out-of-the-way places in the US and elsewhere. What's the strategy behind this?

Google tries to focus very heavily on responding to user queries. We can produce about 10 results in 250 milliseconds. We try very, very hard to provide lightning-fast response, and we have thousands of machines worldwide to support those response rates.

As we increase our clouds worldwide, there are incredible benefits to users.

Can you explain what some experts call Google's unique server design?

We build our own hardware. We do that because we're very, very cheap and we have unusual demands. We use consumer-grade hard drives where most businesses use more expensive, higher-availability hardware. We expect it to break, and when it does, we have file systems and backups, which make it less [likely] to be noticed by users.

We also have switchable power supplies. We know what voltage goes into our machines. We do lots of other designs like that to make our hardware more economical and more environmentally friendly.

You mentioned at the Premier 100 conference that Google now spends more money on power than it does on the capital costs over the lives of these machines. What steps have been take to make the server farms more energy efficient?

One is using [switchable] power supplies. We also do circuit designs to make the machines more efficient. We're trying to make our server farms as efficient as possible, in terms of heat dissipation and with as little cooling required as needed.

What are some sources of green power that Google is utilising?

Look at our public announcements. We don't directly say which of those sources are currently used in our data centre. We've markedly reduced our carbon footprint. [Note: Last spring, Google announced its intention to become carbon-neutral, and the company claims that it's on track toward meeting those goals.]

What's the coolest thing about your (now former) job?

That's a good question. It's to interact with supersmart people. You can't walk the hallways here without coming across someone with a superexciting background who is doing something completely different from what their background is in.

That's pretty darn cool. And I get to work with these people. I don't have to be the guy [charged with finding] to find a 10 percent cost reduction.

What are the biggest misconceptions that people outside of the company have about your role at Google?

Usually when I'm at a cocktail party, it's not so much about what I do for a living as it is about people who talk about their love of Google. They mostly express how excited they are about using our products and how they use them.

NEXT PAGE: The most exasperating question Douglas Merrill gets asked

  1. Douglas Merrill give us his views on being a successful CIO
  2. Google's forthcoming strategy, green computing and what's cool about Google
  3. How CIOs need to change

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