Where Does Google Store All Those Servers?


In the new issue of mental_floss magazine, Ethan Trex answers The Biggest Questions of 2009. All this week, he'll be answering additional questions of various sizes here on the blog.

Does Google have a vast city of servers out there somewhere?

Not quite. Google does need a mind-boggling number of servers to answer all those search queries, but they're not all socked away in a single location. Instead, they're spread out in data centers around the world, some of which are quite large. Google is notoriously tight-lipped with information about these data centers, so it's hard to say exactly how many of them are scattered around the globe. There might be 35 or so, and there might be many more. Google is similarly cagey with details about exactly how many servers it has, but estimates place the number at several hundred thousand servers at the very least.

In 2005, the search giant started construction on a server center in The Dalles, Oregon. The project called for a complex of three buildings, each as large as a football field, that would be crammed with servers held together with tape and Velcro. The Dalles' location on the Columbia River and proximity to cheap electricity is a serious financial consideration for Google. A server center that large generates a lot of heat requires an energy-sucking cooling system. A 2008 story about the center in Harper's reported that the servers require a half-watt of cooling for every watt they use computing, which necessitates large cooling towers and makes the center a huge energy drain. The same Harper's story pointed out that when the plant is totally completed, it will pull in 103 megawatts of electricity, roughly enough to power 82,000 homes—the equivalent of a city the size of Tacoma.

That facility is large, but it's not the only project Google's been working on. In 2007 the company chose Lenoir, North Carolina, as the site for a new $600 million data center. Not surprisingly, part of the reason Google chose the fairly obscure city was its bargain-priced electricity and reliable power grid. Last year, Google spent a similar amount on a new server facility in Goose Creek, South Carolina. Other sites, like one in Council Bluffs, Iowa, should be operational later this year, while the economy has reportedly delayed construction on a $600 million data center in Pryor, Oklahoma.

You can pick up mental_floss wherever brilliant/lots of magazines are sold. Or you could just subscribe.

Samsung Is Making a Phone You Can Fold in Half

The iPhone vs. Galaxy war just intensified. Samsung is pulling out all the stops and developing a foldable phone dubbed Galaxy X, which it plans to release next year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It would seem the rumors surrounding a mythical phone that can fold over like a wallet are true. The phone, which has been given the in-house code name “Winner,” will have a 7-inch screen and be a little smaller than a tablet but thicker than most other smartphones.

Details are scant and subject to change at this point, but the phone is expected to have a smaller screen on the front that will remain visible when the device is folded. Business Insider published Samsung patents back in May showing a phone that can be folded into thirds, but the business news site noted that patents often change, and some are scrapped altogether.

The Galaxy Note 9 is also likely to be unveiled soon, as is a $300 Samsung speaker that's set to rival the Apple HomePod.

The Galaxy X will certainly be a nifty new invention, but it won’t come cheap. The Wall Street Journal reports the phone will set you back about $1500, which is around $540 more than Samsung’s current most expensive offering, the Galaxy Note 8.

[h/t Business Insider]

Why a Readily Available Used Paperback Is Selling for Thousands of Dollars on Amazon

At first glance, getting ahold of a copy of One Snowy Knight, a historical romance novel by Deborah MacGillivray, isn't hard at all. You can get the book, which originally came out in 2009, for a few bucks on Amazon. And yet according to one seller, a used copy of the book is worth more than $2600. Why? As The New York Times reports, this price disparity has more to do with the marketing techniques of Amazon's third-party sellers than it does the market value of the book.

As of June 5, a copy of One Snowy Knight was listed by a third-party seller on Amazon for $2630.52. By the time the Times wrote about it on July 15, the price had jumped to $2800. That listing has since disappeared, but a seller called Supersonic Truck still has used copy available for $1558.33 (plus shipping!). And it's not even a rare book—it was reprinted in July.

The Times found similar listings for secondhand books that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars more than their market price. Those retailers might not even have the book on hand—but if someone is crazy enough to pay $1500 for a mass-market paperback that sells for only a few dollars elsewhere, that retailer can make a killing by simply snapping it up from somewhere else and passing it on to the chump who placed an order with them.

Not all the prices for used books on Amazon are so exorbitant, but many still defy conventional economic wisdom, offering used copies of books that are cheaper to buy new. You can get a new copy of the latest edition of One Snowy Knight for $16.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping, but there are third-party sellers asking $24 to $28 for used copies. If you're not careful, how much you pay can just depend on which listing you click first, thinking that there's not much difference in the price of used books. In the case of One Snowy Knight, there are different listings for different editions of the book, so you might not realize that there's a cheaper version available elsewhere on the site.

An Amazon product listing offers a mass-market paperback book for $1558.33.
Screenshot, Amazon

Even looking at reviews might not help you find the best listing for your money. People tend to buy products with the most reviews, rather than the best reviews, according to recent research, but the site is notorious for retailers gaming the system with fraudulent reviews to attract more buyers and make their way up the Amazon rankings. (There are now several services that will help you suss out whether the reviews on a product you're looking at are legitimate.)

For more on how Amazon's marketplace works—and why its listings can sometimes be misleading—we recommend listening to this episode of the podcast Reply All, which has a fascinating dive into the site's third-party seller system.

[h/t The New York Times]


More from mental floss studios