Home Technology How Google handles millions of searches at the same time

How Google handles millions of searches at the same time

by Sangam Adhikari

First, before the beginning of the article, Let me correct my title. Google has never had millions of searches at the same time; their queries -per-second currently was about 63000 queries/sec in 2019. That number can be a few times more at peak loads, but that many numbers of searches a time.

Each vertical tower has a rack of computers. Each horizontal slat in each of these racks is a multi-processor computer.

Google has been using the document-partitioned system since about 2000, meaning a single machine is responsible for a portion of the entire Web, and it returns the best answers it has to another machine in charge of assembling answers at run time. That machine picks the best answers, chooses ads and other stuff, and assembles all that to be returned as a result.

The Web and its index are not that big – for 100B pages, which include both the fast and the slow parts of the index, it takes a few KB per page for a total of say 300–500TB in 2019 that is not that special and has not been in years. Currently, 64GB memory sticks are available, so a typical 1U machine with, say 24 memory slots, can be stuffed with 1536GB of RAM. A few hundred of those would suffice per cluster, which is a single replica of the entire Web.

It used to be the case that a single cluster/replica could serve about 100 queries/sec, but that was way back with hard drives, everything in RAM changes that drastically and improves it to (many) thousand up.

One of Google’s data center that handles search.

Note also that the fast portion of the index is only a fraction, perhaps 10B or so. But I do not believe Google cares much about saving money on all that. Google, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and everybody else, keeps everything in RAM. It is easy and cheap for them, and actually for others too, as you can pick a 1TB of good older RAM (e.g., PC3–14900R of PC3–12800R) for as little as $600. You could stuff a solid, fast index in less than 100TB for say < $100K together with the machines to put the memory.

But the main story now is that keyword-based is a legacy technology, more than 20 years old. It is quaint to think that relevant results should give some blue links to pages where keywords appear. The result should be a list of authoritative direct answers to your question.

Indeed Google tries to do that when it shows you a so-called info-box at the top of results, but that works only for a small portion of the results, and the actual results leave a lot to be desired. The latest BERT update is about that but is only a small step as acknowledged by Google themselves. It also only a partial level as BERT works only on short snippets supplied by traditional keyword searches. We want to do everything end-to-end by nearest-neighbor-search in vector spaces for both questions and answers.

The requirements for such a system supporting tens of thousands of qps would be a very different animal, and Google has barely started there. The race is on who will get there first.

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