January 17, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Google wants 'dark fiber'

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Is Google planning to build a global fiber-optic network from scratch? And, if so, why?

The question has cropped up in light of a recent job posting on the search engine giant's Web site seeking experts in the field.

"Google is looking for Strategic Negotiator candidates with experience in...(i)dentification, selection, and negotiation of dark fiber contracts both in metropolitan areas and over long distances as part of development of a global backbone network," the posting reads in part.

"Dark fiber" refers to fiber-optic cable that's already been laid, but is not yet in use. Thousands of miles of dark fiber are available in the United States, but there have been few takers because of the high costs of making it operational.

A Google representative declined to elaborate on the job posting. Still, the posting offers a glimpse into Google's bandwidth needs over the coming years, indicating some prodigious internal projections. Although it's still rare for companies to buy significant amounts of fiber on their own, it's not unheard of among companies with exceptional data demands, such as banks. So buying and developing fiber now could well be nothing more than a strategy for cutting costs down the road.

But the move also raises some tantalizing thoughts, including the long-shot chance that the company is laying the groundwork to jump into the telecommunications business. The posting was reported by Light Reading, a Web site that tracks the optical networking industry.

If Google were to build its own global or national fiber network, the project would likely cost billions of dollars and take years to implement, an investment that would be hard to justify based on the networking needs of most companies. Renting "lit" fiber from carriers is generally a cheaper, and therefore preferred, way to go.

Google is thought to be a shrewd judge of computing value, having built its widely admired infrastructure on the back of low-budget server clusters. At the same time, curious geeks have long pondered the apparent mismatch between its service demands and the reputed scale of its computing resources.

Dark motivations
A handful of dark-fiber projects have been gaining momentum recently, mostly involving large consortia of private companies, universities and medical facilities, sometimes with heavy government backing. Best-known is the National LambdaRail (NLR) , which has acquired more than a third of the 28,000 route miles of dark fiber so far snapped up by the research community, according to Steve Corbato, Internet2's director of network initiatives and an NLR board member.

"We view this, in a sense, as exploiting a moment in time," Corbato said. The telecom boom of the late 1990s led to a glut in fiber assets, and the subsequent bust put undeveloped fiber on the market at bargain basement prices. "The sense of urgency in acquiring these assets has been tied to the unique opportunity that's been presented...The spot market for fiber is already going up, and most people expect these assets will get gobbled up."

Corbato says he has noticed signs of increasing interest in dark fiber from private enterprise of late, most notably among large financial institutions. Meanwhile, in December, cable giant Comcast signed a $100 million-plus deal to buy long-haul dark fiber to build out its network.

A Level3 representative declined to comment when told of Google's job posting.

Corbato also declined to speculate about Google's plans. But he said fiber-optic expertise is a natural fit for a company like Google.

"If I were the CIO of an international information technology company," he said, "I would think that having these types of skills would be a natural to have within the organization."

18 comments

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Google ain't no ISP
I do not think this has anything to do with Google planning to enter the telecom business.

What I think is that they are trying to save billions of dollars in global bandwidth costs for the long term. They have forecasted their bandwidth needs 10 years from now and have realized that it is cheaper to invest in a dark fiber backbone right now rather than pay 10 more years of global bandwidth.

It's called vertical integration. A strategy that highly profitable corporations like General Electric have used for years.

What do you think?
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
100% right.
Exactly. :-)
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Link Flag
I think...that your prediction was quite wrong.
At the time, I can see why you forecast what you did, but almost 7 years later we can see that you were incorrect.
Not only has Google rolled out its fiber network in KC, there are many talks of it expanding to a new city in the near future.
Anyway, I'm glad you were wrong...now if only I can convince them to come to my home town with their network ;)
Posted by Doomstang (1 comment )
Link Flag
No Secret
Google has been posting these positions for close to 3-4 months, if not longer. They are looking for a network contract negotiator (the position the article refers to) as well as a peering manager. And they have been for some time. Its no secret, and knowing Google, its not surprising either.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
IPv6 toehold
Could it be that Google is also positioning itself to become the chief indexing agent for IPv6? They have the clout to push changes that may affect future protocol development, on how data is managed, moved and stored. A very powerful position to be in.
Posted by Marcus Westrup (630 comments )
Link Flag
Kinda sad
The frenzy at every job posting

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More talk at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://loudboard.com" target="_newWindow">http://loudboard.com</a>
Posted by (8 comments )
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Why Google wants dark fiber
I think Google is aiming to create a worldwide P2P-like search application.

The Google desktop search app will eventually allow Google users to search other user's hard drives for items. By acquiring the dark fiber, Google becomes an ISP and can thus shield itself from the all the copyright infringing content on those users' hard drives.

If that's found to be too heavy-handed, desktop search might allow a google user to search his/her own personal hard drive (and only that person) over the Net. It's basically the next step for WebDAV. Google controlling the fiber would allow them to guarantee bandwidth and uptime for their users.
Posted by vitaboy (5 comments )
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Using Occam's Razor Theory
The simple explanation is GOOGLE wants to secure distribution infrastructure for its 'world library' project (I'm not sure what they're calling it).

The project will take ~10 years to complete and entails, essentially, putting the Library of Congress on GOOGLE. Ya know, where you can search any book!

Access for something like that would require what's being suggested re:acquiring the dark fiber.

That's my 2cents, anyway.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Digitizing
Yup google is digitizing libraries and it's not just the Library of Congress it's University libraries. University of Michigan is being digitized as we speak, and I heard Wash U is doing the same.

If you can get thousands of college students to access a web site every day to study research and flat out pass college your gonna find a way to make money off it too.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Eduardo has spoken with logic and precision
I completely agree to what he has had to say about this. A company like Google should clearly look ten years into the future all the time. Vertical integration seems to be a good way of doing it.
Posted by ritwikbanerjee (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
If google is building a network I want in. I have 20 years experience building fiber optic networks and facilities. rffrank2468 at aol
Posted by rffrank (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
For anyone interested in tracking how other cities are vying for Google Fiber, checkout the Google Fiber News Tracker at http://thinkbigwithagig.com/ brought to you by Gig4GNV. There's even a form to add your city if it's not already included.
Posted by hectordi (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
They are going to need the dark fiber for the 1 Gig experiment. Which I believe someone has already stated above. The competition is fierce and it has even pitted people against those they should be working with, as an example check out our website (http://www.google4charleston.info) where the mayor and city council of Charleston, WV was spurred into action only after being beatien to the punch by our founder, Russ McDaniel (a private citizen of the same city. Look under the NEWS link for the full story as told by the Charleston Gazette reporter, Jim Balow.
Posted by Google4Charleston (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
"your website," is nothing but a empty domain. don't bother clicking on it.
Posted by LanceH88 (1 comment )
Link Flag
I think that Google might want to start out this type of service in cities where there won't be an enormous amount of users banging on the network. If it was introduced to a large city like NY or San Francisco, the network would be swamped. The city where I work is a smaller city that could actually benefit from such a service since it's so hard for people to find internet outside of their office. Troy, NY doesn't have a Starbucks or any other business that lets users connect yet there are probably hundreds of people that would use such a network if it were available. That's why I voted for Troy via the Troygle community: http://troygle.org/

I'm sure there's plenty of other small cities that could use it but Troy happens to be a place where lots of new ideas and technologies are being produces from RPI and even downtown. Let's all hope that Google is successful with it's new roll-out no matter where you live.
Posted by brettuthius (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is just a scheme-driven agenda from Super Tech Giant "Google" to enable their SE capes with data-cloaking abilities and most of all shielded transmition along line of communication. For a company like Channelline who hosts over 30 Million + Business Application and SAP developers, or a company like Novell and Intosh, who produce some of the most deliverable and finest archetypes in modal-based computing, then this would be appropriate.

In the worlds of J. Crawley , and Eves ::: I would leave well enough and let enough let alone with this "Underground-like sounding proposition" Otherwise the good and reliable, friendly neighboorhood search engine will be friendly no more . . . . . . Is this what Google really wants! They will say it's just for experimentation, and reaching higher bandwidth speeds, but really it is inevitably a tactic and a diabolical plan for Pasadena's Google Headquarters Search Engine Developers INC. to control the world like that of Darth Vader and the Death Star unto Luke Skywalker proned to joined the Dark Side and turn over all of The Land of Acadia to them. Now, I might be wrong on this one. But this is something that you would expect of the NSA or the SEC, and not our good-old, run-of-the-mill, "G-O-O-G-L-E" . . .

Dark FIBER , I mean c'mon, REALLY!!!!!!!!>??????

cr$0S@~
Posted by ccossman (6 comments )
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