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By | Cade Metz 19th November 2007 21:28

Google builds very own Ethernet switches

Could rattle networking biz

Google seems to be building its very own Ethernet switches. But you already knew that. We told you in June.

On Friday, a blog post from telecom/datacom research outfit Nyquist Capital breathlessly announced that Google is using Google-designed switches to link servers inside its top-secret data centers.

"It is our opinion that Google has designed and deployed home-grown 10GbE switches as part of a secret internal initiative that was launched when it realized commercial options couldn’t meet the cost and power consumption targets required for their data centers," wrote Nyquist analyst Andrew Schmitt.

But this is old news to The Reg. We first reported on the custom networking gear back in June, when discussing Google's "orgiastic" acquisition of PeakStream, a startup that built tools for speeding single-threaded apps through multi-core CPUs. Oh, and we were the first to report the PeakStream buy too.

As previously pointed out, the world's largest search engine has penchant for building its own hardware. "Google now shakes up the hardware industry as a whole on an unprecedented scale," we wrote. "For example, many of you have likely heard that Google consumes the most processors and hard disk drives after the top server vendors. Google uses the components to craft its own servers rather than buying gear on the street like other red-blooded service providers.

"In addition, it has crafted so-called White Trash Data Centers of its own where shipping containers are filled with servers and transported around the world, while the likes of Sun Microsystems and Rackable try to turn this model into an actual business. Lastly, we understand that Google plans to make its own switches and other networking gear."

Since then, the company has nabbed a patent for those White Trash Data Centers - which has surely annoyed Sun and Rackable. And it would seem that Google is now quite serious about building its own switches.

"Through conversations with multiple carrier, equipment, and component industry sources we have confirmed that Google has designed, built, and deployed home-brewed 10GbE switches for providing server interconnect within their data centers," Schmitt continued. "Google realized that because its computing needs were very specific, it could design and build computers that were cheaper and lower power than off the shelf alternatives."

According to Schmitt, Google's switch design is based on a 20-port 10GbE switch from Broadcom and uses SFP+ interconnects. But it looks like the company eschewed the standard SFP+ setup in favor of something cheaper, and Schmitt believes this do-it-yourself approach could rattle the commercial switch market.

"This decision by Google, while small in terms of units purchased, is enormous in terms of the disruptive impact it should have on 10GbE switching equipment providers and their component supply chains," he said. "This non-standard and very low cost optical format should prove just as attractive to other data center customers."

We asked Google if it was indeed building its own switches. But it didn't respond. We also asked Schmitt for an interview. But he didn't respond either.

As we understand it, however, it's not all custom work at Google on the networking front. Our sources indicate that Google has purchased a mega 10GigE system capable of supporting thousands of ports from an as of yet undisclosed Silicon Valley start-up. ®


Google just responded to us. It won't admit to building its own Ethernet switches, but it does have a sense of humor. "We can't share details on our infrastructure but would encourage any interested engineers to check out our job listings at," a spokeswoman told us. "We currently have job openings for hardware and software engineers with networking backgrounds that might be of interest to your readers."

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