A recent paper released by by Urs Hölzle and Luiz André Barroso of Google's infrastructure design and operations team provides an introduction into today's high scale computing along with factors influencing their design, operation, and cost structure.
From the abstract: "As computation continues to move into the cloud, the computing platform of interest no longer resembles a pizza box or a refrigerator, but a warehouse full of computers. These new large datacenters are quite different from traditional hosting facilities of earlier times and cannot be viewed simply as a collection of co-located servers. Large portions of the hardware and software resources in these facilities must work in concert to efficiently deliver good levels of Internet service performance, something that can only be achieved by a holistic approach to their design and deployment. In other words, we must treat the datacenter itself as one massive warehouse-scale computer (WSC)."
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Minds + Machines