Google’s first processor was surrounded by Lego. Now think about that title again (mess the letters round a bit).
In 1995, Larry Page entered Stanford as a new student. Sergey Brin was assigned to show him around the campus. The pair apparently argued throughout the tour. They would later work together to produce the algorithms at the core of Google. Brin and Page’s work was far larger than other student projects. They ran the algorithms off Stanford’s equipment, which processed 40 GBytes in total across ten disk drives (4GByte hard disks were the largest available at the time…an iPhone can currently offer up to 128). The original hard disks were organised in a low cost cabinet, surrounded by LEGO blocks. These early disks are still held in their multi-coloured shell, displayed at Stanford’s Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Centre.
The processor originally started as a project called BackRub (you can read the full paper if you’re maybe a little too enthusiastic) with the purpose of organising the explosion of information available online in the 90s. In the depths of their work by 1996, Brin and Page would have had around 10 million documents to sift through. Despite being a microscopic amount compared to what today’s processors cope with, the project frequently brought down Stanford’s processors. The pair needed more space. They purchased a terabyte for US$15,000 and, on the 15 September 1997, they registered Google.com as a domain. Despite the convenient anagram, ‘Google’ is meant as a play on the mathematical reference for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros, a ‘googol’.
It is estimated that today Google has around 900,000 servers, although the company has not released official numbers and it is likely that these estimates are much too conservative. Google’s connection to LEGO has equally transformed since the 90s. ‘Googleplex’, the company’s headquarters in California, includes a room dedicated to LEGO. Sitting play alongside production might seem like the company’s over-earnest effort to create a hipster workplace, but the connection reaches back to Google’s beginnings.
I first found out about this from a wonderful podcast called No Such Thing as a Fish made by the QI Elves. If you’ve read this far into the Trunk, then definitely check it out: http://qi.com/podcast/
And for anything more about the playtime style origins of Google: http://infolab.stanford.edu/pub/voy/museum/pictures/display/0-4-Google.htm