On the banks of the windswept Columbia River, Google is working on a secret weapon in its quest to dominate the next generation of Internet computing. But it is hard to keep a secret when it is as big as two football fields, with twin cooling towers protruding four stories into the sky.
The towers, looming like an information-age nuclear plant, mark the site of what may soon be one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, helping to supply the ever-greater horsepower needed to process billions of search queries a day and a growing repertory of other Internet services.
Microsoft and Yahoo have announced they are building giant data centers upstream in Washington State, 130 miles to the north. But Google is doing something radically different here. The very need for two cooling towers, each connected to a football field-sized data center, is evidence of its extraordinary ambition.
As imposing as Google's new Oregon data center is, when it opens it will only a piece of a worldwide computing system known as the Googleplex, which is tied together by strands of fiber optic cables. A similar computing center has recently been completed in Atlanta.
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