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Interview with Google's Sergey Brin

By Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa
Originally published at OLinux

Google: An important tool to organize information around the world

Sergey Brin, a native of Moscow, graduated with honors with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Maryland at College Park. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at Stanford University, where he received his master's degree. Brin is a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. Brin's research interests include search engines, information extraction from unstructured sources, and data mining of large text collections and scientific data. He has published more than a dozen publications in leading academic journals, including "Extracting Patterns and Relations from the World Wide Web"; "Dynamic Data Mining: A New Architecture for Data with High Dimensionality," which he published with Larry Page; "Scalable Techniques for Mining Casual Structures"; "Dynamic Itemset Counting and Implication Rules for Market Basket Data"; and "Beyond Market Baskets: Generalizing Association Rules to Correlations."

OLinux: What is Google company's mission?

Sergey Brin: Google's mission is to organize the world's information, making it universally accessible and useful.

OLinux: When did you start this company? What was your initial motivation and how do you see it nowadays?

Sergey Brin: We started working on Google in 1995, as a research project at Stanford University. In 1998, we formed the company, Google Inc., and launched the search engine in beta to the outside world. This happened in September 1998. Our goal was to created a very simple and easy-to-use website that offers the best search engine in the world. This is still our goal, and we plan to continue to focus our business on search technology for some time to come.

OLinux: What kind of customers look for Google services and what are your company main clients? How fast Google wants to expand its solutions to other countries around the world?

Sergey Brin: We have over 100 customers in over 20 countries. Some of our banner customers include Yahoo!, AOL/Netscape, Cisco,, and VirginNet (in the UK). Google customers license our technology because they are looking for the fastest, most relevant search on the Internet. Google currently supports 25 language searches, and will continue to aggressively add to this list. We ultimately hope to support all major languages in the world.

OLinux: How fast revenues are growing? Are there any plans for an IPO?

Sergey Brin: We're very happy with our business plan. Revenues are growing every quarter and we've made very few changes to our business strategy since we started the company. An IPO is something we're considering, but is not in our near-term plans. We've always managed the finances of our company very carefully, and we are fortunate to still have a very strong cash position from our initial venture financing, which was in June 1999.

OLinux: How did business over Internet has change the use of Google widening client's base and for searching tools?

Sergey Brin: We have millions of users a day who use Google to search for products and product information related to their purchasing decisions. For example, we index almost the entire website. As more and more information appears on the Internet, Google plans to index it and offer this content to our users. Google currently is the world's largest search engine, with over 1 billion web pages in our index.

OLinux: What are your responsibilities at Google? Rapidly, describe your daily tasks at Google?

Sergey Brin: Both my partner, Larry Page, and myself are very involved in almost all aspects of our business. I spend quite a bit of time each day on hiring, internal management, and marketing.

OLinux: How does Google collaborate with its partners?

Sergey Brin: Each of our partner relationships is unique, so it's hard to answer this question. We support our partners in a variety of ways, from simply providing the world's best search technology, to co-marketing, to providing technological assistance, etc.

OLinux: What are the Google marketing strategies and alliances in order to keep itself on the Internet market?

Sergey Brin: Google actually relies on our users to help with our marketing. We have a very high percentage of our users who often tell others about our search engine. This has helped Google immensely, and has helped our website traffic grow over 20% per month since we started our company in 1998.

OLinux: How is Google organized? Try to give us an idea of how Google works? How is the coordination and management (servers, directories, contribution, staff payment)? How many people are involved? What are the main problems? Does Google have a central office somewhere or a HQ?

Sergey Brin: Google has two offices. Our headquarters are in the heart of Silicon Valley -- in Mountain View, California, which is about 10 minutes from Stanford University, where Google was born. We also have a small sales office in New York City, with about 10 employees who sell advertising for us. In total, we have just over 150 employees. Most of these employees are involved with our technology and engineering department. We have over 30 PhD's in this group!

Google's servers (we have over 6,000 servers that run RedHat 6.2) are hosted at three data centers across the U.S. -- one in the Washington DC area, and two in Silicon Valley.

OLinux: Please, evaluate rapidly Google evolution in terms of pages served using its tools? Can you describe something that really helped the project to succeeded? Have any idea of number of sites using Google search engine? Number of pages served by google engine every day?

Sergey Brin: Google currently servers over 20 million searches per day on our own website (, and over 50 million searches per day on our own site and our partner websites (Yahoo, Netscape, Cisco, etc.). Have so many smart and talented employees has really helped our company succeed. There are over 25,000 websites on the Internet that use the Google search engine.

OLinux: Why should a site choose Google search engine instead of others? What are the better features Google bring to users?

Sergey Brin: Google offers users better quality search results, a simple, easy-to-use interface, high performance, and an exclusive focus on just being a search engine. We also offer cool features like caches pages, stock quotes, news headlines, links to online maps.

OLinux: Let's talk about Research and Development (R&D) and Software Engineering (SE): How many people work in SE activities developing google main tools? What is its policy toward investment in R&D?

Sergey Brin: We have about 80 engineers and R&D team members, and we're big fans of investing heavily in R&D.

OLinux: How is the research & development coordinated? What are the analysis and programming tools used? Are there any special quality control, auditing on code produced?What are the main projects under way?

Sergey Brin: They're very closely intertwined; developers do research and vice versa, and everyone talks a lot. Communication is very good between both of these groups.

For programming we use gnu tools: gcc, gdb, gnats. We use p4 for version control. For network installs, we use a variety of our own software, in addition to rsync. Machines are built on-site here at Google, configured, then shipped over to one of our three data centers.

We have a detailed regimen for code reviews and testing (QA).

The main projects we're working on, outside of improving the overall quality of our search engine are: Google wireless search technology, a variety of voice recognition projects, and Google international search technology bringing Google to more users worldwide.

OLinux: Currently, Google search engine runs in more than 5000 Red hat Linux servers. I read that Google system install and configure 80 servers at a time. What kind of tools coordinate this mass installation? What are the administrative tools used to monitor, check and replace servers failures? How is Linux used at the Google Projects? Why was Linux choose to improve Google search engine?

Sergey Brin: Actually, we currently run over 6,000 RedHat servers.

Linux is used everywhere...on the 6,000+ servers themselves, as well as desktop machines for all of our technical employees. We chose Linux because if offers us the price for performance ratio. It's so nice to be able to customize any part of the operating system that we like, at anytime. We have a large degree of in-house Linux expertise, too.

Most of our administrative tools were developed in-house, as well.

OLinux: What is Google security policy and how is it implemented?

Sergey Brin: Most of our machines are behind a router and not accessible to the outside world. The outside-accessible machines (webservers) are carefully audited for security holes.

We also use ssh an awful lot. :-)

Copyright © 2000, Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa. Copying license
Published in Issue 59 of Linux Gazette, November 2000

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