Amazing Google Street View
I remember when SQL Server 7 was nearly ready for release, Microsoft research had a project to make a 1 terabyte database. Their project was to server up satellite images of anywhere on Earth. Basically they had 1 Terabyte of images, so that was their terabyte database. I didn’t think this was a realistic terabyte database since their weren’t that many records, just each one was an image and quite large. Anyway they put the thing up on the web as a beta, and as soon as a few people tried it, the whole thing collapsed under the load.
A year or two later Google launched Google Earth, which basically did the same thing, only more detailed. But Google Earth can easily handle the load of all the people around the world accessing it. Why the difference? Why could Google do this and Microsoft couldn’t? I think the main difference is that Microsoft hosted it on one single SQL Server and had no way to scale it besides beefing up the hardware at great expense. Whereas Google uses a massively distributed database running on many many servers all coordinated and all sharing and balancing the load. Google uses many low cost Linux based servers keeping costs down and performance high.
This week Google released Google StreetView for major Canadian cities including Vancouver, where I live. So I can virtually cruise around Vancouver streets with very good resolution including seeing my house and neighborhood. This is really amazing technology. Rather than just panning around a patchwork of satellite images, we are actually navigating in 3D around the world. Suddenly Google has produced a virtual model of the entire world at quite good photographic quality.
Think about the size of this distributed database with all these photos, plus all the data to allow them to be stitched together into 3D Views that you can navigate through. This is so far beyond Google Earth, it’s really amazing. Is this the first step to having a completely virtual alternate Earth? If you are wearing 3D goggles, will you be able to tell if they are transparent or viewing these images?
I think we are just seeing the first applications of what is possible with these giant distributed databases. I’m really looking forwards to seeing some really amazing and mind blowing applications in the future. The neat thing is that Google is starting to open source this database technology so others can use it. Are SQL databases just dinosaurs waiting to be replaced? What will be able to accomplish in our business/enterprise databases and data warehouses one we start apply and using this technology?