A Look Inside Google’s Berkeley County Data Center

Whenever you search on Google, send emails through Gmail, or watch videos on YouTube, you’re connected to one of Google’s data centers around the world. These awe-inspiring facilities host the thousands of powerful servers and complex infrastructure that keep Google’s services operating efficiently for you. Very few people outside of the company have stepped inside because of the extreme security measures. While every data center performs similar technical functions, each data center is unique in design. Let’s take a close look at Google’s data center in Berkeley County to find out more about its innovation, workforce development, and community outreach in Charleston.

Google opened its Berkeley County data center facility in 2008, but has announced it is doubling its investment in the Lowcountry to a total of $1.2 billion in 2013 by adding additional facilities to its campus.


Server floor at Google Berkeley County data center

Each data center performs the same functions to host any kind of Google product or service, including Google search, Gmail, Google+, and YouTube. What’s unique about Google’s services is they are “transients” — services that can live in one data center and then quickly be transferred to another data center with relative ease to optimize redundancy and accessibility. That funny cat video you were watching on YouTube has been duplicated between data centers to give you the best playback experience. Services residing at the Berkeley data center today may not necessarily be there tomorrow. The Google File System has been architected to optimize these services and allow the operations team to perform maintenance and take the data center offline without impacting the performance of the whole system. “The beauty of the system in the way it is architected is that we really don’t need to know from our operational standpoint what’s actually here, because from our perspective, the focus is on deploying and fixing computers,” says operations manager Eric Wages.


Google data centers are designed to be highly efficient, so they consume less energy with fewer servers and minimal impact on the environment. All of the facilities are built around strict energy savings utilizing a metric called power usage effectiveness. PUE is used to determine the energy efficiency of a data center by dividing the amount of energy entering a data center by the energy used to run the computer infrastructure within it. Typical data centers operate at 80% to 100% overhead, while Google’s data centers are just 15%.


LED status lights on server equipment.


Backup tape library with robotic arms assisting in loading and unloading tapes.

The Berkeley County data center has found a way to improve efficiency by using the natural resources surrounding it. Google has developed an innovative cooling system that utilizes rainwater stored in water retention ponds to help cool its systems while using less power, especially during the hot South Carolina summers. Storm water runoff is collected in the man-made ponds, then treated for use. Google is also testing ways to use the rainwater to augment its existing water systems in order to decrease water usage.


Rainwater retention ponds used as a source to cool data center systems.


Storage tanks holding up to 24,000 gallons of water for cooling the data center.


Why did Google choose Berkeley County as a data center location? Geographic location matters on a number of levels. Consider that when you type in a search query on the Google homepage and it instantly gives you matching results as you type, the data center is handling those queries between your location and the data center, then back again before you see any results. The closer the data is to the customers, the faster they have access to it. Having data centers close to major centers of population such as the Charleston region is very important to Google to provide the best customer experience.

There are other factors that make Berkeley County ideal for a data center. The developable land in the area is cheap, and Google has purchased over 500 acres. It is also easily accessible to available critical infrastructure such as energy (from Berkeley Electric Cooperative), water, and networks.

The solid workforce development in the area has also been a great resource. Local contractors help support the ongoing construction daily with thousands of workers, tools, materials, and trucks. Vendor roles such as catered food and massage therapy services help support the perks and benefits offered at the data center. Google has made a tremendous economic impact in the area by creating job opportunities for the community with its continuous operation.


Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be located near the top travel destination in the country, which helps with recruitment and retention. “The thing I like to call the nice accident is how close we are to cultural things. Charleston is voted the best tourist destination in the U.S. We have many data centers that aren’t near any place like that, so it’s not a prime consideration, but it certainly helps in recruiting,” says Wages.

There are two kinds of core job functions that work together in supporting the data center. The Hardware Operations team builds and deploys all the physical infrastructure and supports the entire life cycle of anything considered IT equipment, such as machines, networks, and disks. Another group called Data Center Operations focuses on all the supporting infrastructure, such as air conditioning, water and power systems, the physical building, and security systems. Other support roles include project managers, program managers, tech writers, and educators associated with the CS First program.

Wages encourages applicants to apply at google.com/jobs and emphasizes that Google makes it a priority to hire from the local community, especially qualified individuals who are involved in the community.

“Around 85% of our population here are hired locally. These are people that already lived in the area and met the criteria. These are people who are already doing great things in the community and wanted to come and work for us to do even better things.”


Google is highly committed to making a positive impact in the community by helping schools, nonprofits, and businesses through grant giving, initiatives, and events. Since 2009, it has donated more than $1 million to nonprofits and schools of science and technology, energy innovation, and Internet access projects in South Carolina.

The Google Data Center Fund of Tides Foundation recently gave a $30,000 grant to the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston to support innovation, conservation, and educational programs in the community.


Last year, Google launched CS First, an after-school program focused on exposing K-12 students
in South Carolina schools, especially minorities and girls, to programming and computer science early on before college. CS First aims to help students have confidence and a positive attitude toward computer science, learn basic coding concepts, collaborate with others, and understand how coding is used in the world.


Googlefest is a free conference each June dedicated to sharing knowledge with nonprofits, small businesses, and educators. Google experts will educate attendees on how to use Google tools such as Google Apps, Google Docs, and Google Drive.


As for future growth, Google may continue to expand its data center complex in Berkeley County as the company’s services increase. “We’ve always said we’re in it for the long haul,” said Wages. “It’s tough to say what the future holds. We’re doing this huge construction push right now, building on a faster timeline than we kicked off. The growth of Google’s services drives how we build our data centers.”

Photos courtesy of: Google

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