Ever wonder how Google - and their search engine competitors - perform the seemingly magical task of instantly delivering whatever information you desire?
It's hard to imagine that somewhere there are physical buildings where machines process all that information, store our videos, emails, and searches on servers, and keep the interwebs up and running.
But those buildings exist. Until recently, Google didn't allow many people access to their data centres, and they certainly weren't offering tours.
Well, Google is granting the public full (virtual) access to their data centre in Lenoir, North Carolina, one of about a dozen similar facilities spread around the world.
It's an imposing place, with massive rooms full of server racks. How big? Well, the engineers need bicycles to get around. They're nicknamed "G-bikes."
The biggest data centre, Council Bluffs in Iowa, is 115,000 square feet altogether.
Some areas of the centre look a little bit like Willy Wonka's factory, with whimsically coloured pipes running everywhere. But the colouring isn't just for fun: it also helps engineers keep track of what's happening inside.
"Blue pipes supply cold water and the red pipes return the warm water back to be cooled," according to the website.
And even though there's a massive amount of powerful equipment in place, there are still a few empty areas waiting to be filled with even more computing power.
Google also granted access to 'Wired' journalist Steven Levy, who wrote an in-depth piece about his visit. As he points out, Google considers its network to be "the ultimate competitive advantage," so it's been careful to guard its secrets.
The story of how the data centres came to be is pretty interesting: basically, Google needed more power than they could afford to rent, so they decided to build their own facilities. Their mission to create a more powerful and efficient data centre than had ever existed even had a cool codename: Willpower.
You can read Levy's whole piece right here.
And for a virtual tour, you can use Google maps to wander around inside the facility. Just click on the streetview map below to step inside:
Here's a video explaining how that works:
And the eagle-eyed people at Mashable noticed that in one of the server rooms, there are some unlikely guards keeping watch. Check it out:
But as cool as it is to see inside Google's complex, it looks like things aren't going too well for the company: their stock market shares fell 9 per cent yesterday, knocking $19 billion off the company's value.
The drop happened after Google accidentally released their quarterly earnings figures early. Normally, the company releases financial statements after the markets close, but yesterday the information went out in the early afternoon.
The earnings statement shows that Google earned $2.18 billion U.S. during the three months ending in September - which doesn't sound so bad. But during the same time last year, their net income was $2.73 billion.