Friday, January 28, 2005

A Google Operating System?

I wrote this article in 2005 as part of a Slash Dot discussion "Google Planning Web Browser? ", I've decided to add it in here as part of consolidating significant writings I've done in other forums and have added it here in October 2008. From the 2008 perspective we know that Google did, in fact release their own browser.

The original discussion's header was"John Dvorak has just posted a very interesting, albeit hypothetical, analysis of Google's future directions. Citing the 'unusual' hires of Rob Pike (from Bell labs), Ben Goodger, and Darin Fisher (both from Mozilla) and the acquisition of the domain, Dvorak speculates that a Firefox based Google browser and Google-OS may soon be coming to a cluster near you."

Rob Pike was the principle author of the Plan-9 operating system and is a world expert on distributed operating systems

Let's assume Google is acting rationally

They might want Rob Pike for other reasons, several have been suggested elsewhere in this discussion.

On the other hand, they may actually want him to develop an operating system. That is one of the things he's done before, and one of the things he's well known for.

Why on earth should Google want to develop a new (or highly modified) operating system? What strengths would Dr Pike bring to that project?

Google have a very large number of servers. They won't reveal how many they have, but admit to more than 10,000 servers [], another another estimate [] suggests between 31 and 158 thousand servers. That's a lot of computing power. Presumably the people at Google are highly interested in getting as much work out of this hardware as they possibly can.

Enter Dr Pike. He's well known for Plan 9 [] "The Plan 9 system is based on the concept of distributed computing in a networked, client-server environment. The set of resources available to applications is transparently made accessible everywhere in the distributed system, so that it is irrelevant where the applications are actually running."

I have seen passing references [] that Plan 9 is strong on clustering and load balancing. Unfortunately I can't get Google to give me a good citation, so this may be a myth.

Google have a large number of computers, and have hired an expert on writing distributed operating systems. I feel it's likely that they want him to improve the operating environment of their servers, or possibly of the Google appliances they sell.

It doesn't take much thought to realise that Google would be well served by a stripped down operating system that supports the work they do highly efficiently, and supports non-core activities relatively poorly, or even not at all.

OK, let's assume that they are writing an OS for their own internal use. An OS that makes their servers carry out the core business of their company more efficiently. Why should they either sell or give away that operating system?

Spidering, organising, searching, and delivering information is what Google does. Why should they let their competition have access to the tool that lets their 10,000-158,000 computers do their core business better?

Not many facts to back it up in any depth, but my best guess is that whatever it is that Rob Pike does for Google won't be released for a long time, if ever.