Google come to town: ‘Designing a Search Engine’

by Yatin Vadhia (

400PB*.  The storage capacity (we assumed) of Google.

On the 23rd of November 2011, for just under two hours, Google’s Andrew Walker came to the University of Surrey to give an extremely interactive lecture (it felt more like a discussion), titled “Designing a Search Engine”. During the lecture he led us through a series of questions in which we gave answers on how we would build a search engine if it were up to us.

And he started by asking a simple question. How would you design a search engine?

So we began, piece by piece we went through some of the considerations that Google go through on a daily basis. As actual figures were not available to the public, we made assumptions. 1 billion searches a day would mean 12,500 searches a second, and 250TB of data transferred per day (assuming each results page is 200 kb/s). A very interesting fact I wasn’t aware of is that Google actually builds its own hard drives and replaces one on average once every 30 minutes.

We discussed what people want when it comes to a search engine, and also the legal obligations Google has. We also discussed the Bing controversy (when Bing was found to be ‘copying’ Google’s search results) and the various services that are tweaked for local users. For example, there is no Google Image Search in Germany because the person that serves the content (which potentially could be child pornography) is legally liable, and not the poster.

We were also told about the atmosphere at Google, and the activities that occur on a daily basis. As you would expect from a technology company, if you have an idea but not evidence (such as a graph) then the idea will go nowhere.

We learnt about an idea that once existed at Google, a box that could see what you were watching on TV, as well as listen to the conversations you were having, and then display relevant ads on the screen. This idea was apparently killed off, because it was perceived that people might find it very creepy.

This was rounded off by some information about the advertisements they serve and the rules that they have about adverts (they cannot be offensive etc), as well as a Q&A session.

Overall I would say the event was one of the best I’ve ever been to, and I think many of the other attendees would agree. I would like to thank CompSoc for making the event possible, as well as Andrew for coming to the university.

*(1 petabyte = 1 million gigabytes = 1 thousand terabytes)