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Google Moves Draw Expert Speculation

by Rawlson O’Neil King, theWHIR.com

March 1, 2005 — (WEB HOST INDUSTRY REVIEW) — With a series of provocative moves over the past few months, search giant Google (google.com) has fueled speculation that the company’s already large influence could spread to include other Internet services, including Web hosting.

Since the beginning of the year, the company has hinted at plans to acquire network capacity, has become an ICANN-accredited domain registrar, and has offered hosting to a collaborative, non-profit Internet project.

Speculation that Google would enter the service provider marketplace was definitively sparked in January, when the firm placed a job posting on its Web site, seeking a strategic negotiator with experience in closing contracts for dark fiber. The posting referred to unlit fiber optic cable as part of the development of a global backbone network.

With thousands of miles of unlit fiber available throughout the United States, the move initiated the belief that Google was seeking wider network coverage and more data center facilities in more metropolitan areas. With additional data center facilities, it would be possible for the firm to lease excess network and facility capacity to large corporate clients.

Due to strong traffic and revenue growth, which totaled a record $1 billion in the last quarter alone for its search engine operation, financial analysts believe that Google’s interest in a global fiber network could be a calculated effort toward reducing growing bandwidth costs for its sophisticated multi-homed network. With its own network in place, Google would be able to save billions of dollars in global bandwidth costs over the long-term.

The acquisition of such added capacity would allow Google to offer extremely complex infrastructure provisioning to both corporations and Internet and application service providers if it so desired.

Google would also be able to offer services to its small to mid-sized business clientele if it opted to use the infrastructure to enhance its consumer-driven services.

Google already operates the free Blogger service, which could provide an entry point for a large market of hosting and domain customers. And integration of the blog service with domain name registration could become a reality since Google became a domain registrar in February, approved to sell seven top-level domains, including .com, .net, .org, .biz, .info, .name and .pro.

With the combination of domain name and blogging services, Google could develop a full “one-stop-shop” Web hosting operation.

Google could even opt to provide such a service free of charge in order to exponentially enhance the network of affiliate sites that presently distribute its text-based, contextual advertising. With millions of more page views available for its advertising service, the firm could break its $1 billion revenue record.

Industry analysts say Google could unite its blogging and domain name registration tools through the development of a specialized Web browser. With the recent hiring of Ben Goodger, the lead engineer of the open-source Firefox Web browser, Google sparked speculation that it could be developing a customized browser or browser plug-in that could directly integrate its core search, blogging, news and email services.

An enhanced browser could conceivably allow small business consumers to register domains and publish their Web sites directly through a specialized interface.

Most industry analysts however are pointing towards Google’s potential hosting of the Wikipedia project, the world’s largest free online encyclopedia, as the most definitive sign that the search engine giant is gearing up to offer commercial hosting services.

Recently, Google made an offer to host some of the content of Wikipedia on a dedicated server on its multi-homed network. Wikipedia’s board of directors will make a decision in March on whether to accept Google’s offer.

Reportedly, the agreement does not require the Wikipedia sites to include advertising. However, some analysts believe that such an arrangement would enable Google to fine-tune its infrastructure to third-party requirements.

Despite the Wikipedia project and other developments, Google still officially remains coy about its strategic direction. Company co-founder Larry Page downplayed recent media reports that the company is preparing to branch into new directions by introducing hosting services, domain registration or a new browser.

“Most of the things we read are a surprise to us,” said Page at a meeting of stock market analysts in early February.


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